President Abdulla Yameen has vetoed a bill banning calls for tourism boycott and sanctions against the Maldives, saying the bill infringes on the right to free speech.
The four-page bill, submitted by ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Riyaz Rasheed, had set a jail term of up to ten years for Maldivians who call for boycotts and sanctions. The parliament later deemed it a civil offence. The bill authorizes those “who suffer any damage” to claim compensation from “those responsible for the offense.”
The bill was passed on November 25 by the PPM dominated parliament.
Yameen returned the bill for reconsideration on Thursday, saying several provisions in the bill “leads to the restriction of certain fundamental rights like the freedom of expression and freedom of press.”
MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had raised the same concerns during the bill’s debate.
Majlis is closed for recess now, and will reconvene in March.
Rasheed had proposed the bill in response to the MDP’s call for targeted sanctions against government officials responsible for jailing former President Mohamed Nasheed. The MDP, however, says it does not support a tourism boycott.
However high profile figures including Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, have urged tourists to avoid visiting the Maldives until Nasheed is freed. Other groups, including a website called Ethical Maldives, are calling for a selective boycott of resorts owned by individuals who have close associations with the government.
Nasheed was jailed in March on a terrorism charge. A UN human rights panel and world leaders have called for his release.
His lawyers are moving forward with a campaign to lobby world leaders for travel bans and asset freezes on senior officials of the state that are involved in serious human rights violations. A list of potential targets has been submitted to the government of UK.
In response, Rasheed said MDP supporters would be barred from entering Saudi Arabia and China, the two countries Yameen has been strengthening ties with.
Rasheed had previously threatened to use the bill to jail all opposition MPs. “People who try to block income the Maldives earns should be arrested. All these people here, who belong to MDP should be arrested. This is what we’re trying to do. God willing, that will happen now,” he had said.
He had also led calls for the Maldives to withdraw from the Commonwealth and labeled the Queen of England “physically challenged” on national television. In May this year, Riyaz sparked controversy with tweets about prohibiting “islanders” from traveling to protest in Malé.
Yameen has meanwhile declared he would not bow down to foreign pressure and release Nasheed.
The appeal of Nasheed’s terrorism conviction is now before the Supreme Court.
Photo by Tourism Ministry