Bill on amendments to Evidence Act sent to Judiciary Committee

Journalists have gathered near the Parliament in protest of the Parliament’s decision to move ahead with the source disclosure provision in the Evidence Bill, which could force them to disclose their sources. (Sun photo)

Bill submitted on behalf of the government proposing to amend the source disclosure provision in the Evidence Act to address the concerns of the journalists has been sent to the Judiciary Committee of the Parliament.

During the Parliament session on Monday, a vote was taken to decide whether the bill would be forwarded to the committee for further deliberation. The bill was forwarded with 56 members voting in favor.

The bill was presented by Gan MP Mohamed Wisam on behalf of the government. The purpose of this bill was to address the concerns raised by the current provisions of the Evidence Act.

Currently, the Evidence Act declares national security threats and terror offenses as grounds for court orders to disclose sources. The main concern raised by the press is the lack of a clear definition of national security threats in the Act, which they argue could lead to misuse of the term.

Hence, this bill seeks to define national security threats and terror offenses. It also asked to state that only the High Court can issue orders to force source disclosure, in response to petitions filed by the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Furthermore, the bill states that prior to the court issuing such an order, multiple factors must be considered. This includes the extent of the damage or detrimental impact if the identity of a source is revealed, and the extent to which failure to release the information could result in an unfair judgment or penalty on a defendant on trial.

Speaking during the debating phase, North Maafannu MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the amendments proposed to cause the Evidence Act to lose its purpose.

While some members who spoke during the debate expressed their concerns regarding the bill, others noted that this was an important bill.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) had said it is opposed to amending the Evidence Act to cover national security.

The association said it believes only situations where a person’s life or a place is in immediate danger or great damage should warrant disclosure of sources. It also said that the declaration of terror offenses as grounds for forced disclosure of sources already covers national security threats.

The Evidence Act was ratified on July 18, despite a petition filed by the press with the President’s Office expressing concern over the legislature.