Proposed election law change threatens reporting freedom in Maldives

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the government of the Maldives to withdraw a proposed amendment to its election law that would prevent freelance and foreign journalists from covering voting and vote-counting in next September’s presidential election. This would restrict the freedom to report the news and fuel suspicion about vote-rigging, RSF says.

Under the proposed changes to Section 41(a) and 41(b) of the General Elections Act, only  “registered journalists” – meaning staff journalists with government-approved media outlets – would be admitted to polling stations and vote-counting places. In practice, this means that freelancers and foreign reporters would be barred.

“Drafted without consulting journalists and submitted to parliament just six months before a major election, this ambiguously-worded amendment to the electoral law sends an alarming signal about reporting freedom and democracy in the Maldives. We call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government to immediately withdraw this dangerous bill and to ensure that the media can play their role as independent election observers without hindrance.

Daniel Bastard
Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk

The proposed amendment seems particularly inappropriate for elections in the Maldives, an archipelago of small islands in which the leading media are obliged to temporarily recruit local reporters in order to cover polling and vote counting at the local level.

The bill could be interpreted restrictively to deny access to such local reporters, which could encourage fears and suspicions about vote-rigging, challenges and disputes that only journalists motivated by a desire to serve the public interest could help to resolve.

A freelance journalist who asked not to be identified told RSF: “If you look at the way they have phrased these amendments, it’s clear they want to stop freelancers and foreign journalists from covering the election. The amendment could have a major impact on press freedom. Journalists’ rights should not be left without clarification.”

Maldives Journalists Association general secretary Ahmed Naif told RSF: “While there have been no issues about accrediting journalists based on previous practices and no reported incidents of journalists acting against the code of conduct for media monitors, we believe that there is a malicious intent for proposing this amendment.”

Solih’s election as president in 2018 ended a vicious cycle of press freedom violations but, despite the firm undertakings he gave to respect freedom, his term has been marred by repressive legislative initiatives. Last July, RSF expressed its vehement opposition to the adoption of a law clearly violating the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

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