Lawmakers proposed Wednesday bills to decriminalise defamation and repeal a controversial law that unseats lawmakers who cross the floor.
A bill to repeal the widely-condemned anti-defamation law was submitted on behalf of the joint opposition by MP Abdulla Shahid.
The “draconian” law has to be abolished to protect constitutional rights in line with the country’s obligations under international treaties, Shahid told reporters.
It would restore freedom of expression and “remove the shackles” from the media, he added.
Since the law came into force in August 2016, the broadcasting regulator has slapped fines worth MVR3.7 million (US$240,000) on the opposition-aligned Raajje TV, mostly for airing speeches deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.
While civil remedies were kept in place, police were authorised to investigate complaints against individuals and forward cases for prosecution. Failure to pay fines of up to MVR2 million (US$130,000) if found guilty could lead to a jail term of three to six months.
Repealing the law was a pledge of president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
The bill to repeal the anti-defection law passed in March – which penalises floor crossing by stripping lawmakers of their seats – was submitted by MP Riyaz Rasheed, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
Riyaz was among 14 PPM MPs who backed the opposition’s bid to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a ruling party member.
The anti-defection law poses obstacles for lawmakers to perform their duties, Riyaz told the press.
The law effectively gave parties the power to unseat lawmakers. It states that MPs elected on political party tickets would lose their seat if they left their party, got expelled, or switched parties.
The same rule was imposed by the Supreme Court in July last year when the attorney general sought an anti-defection ruling after the opposition coalition secured a clear majority to impeach the speaker.
The disqualification of MPs who crossed over to the opposition was used to quash the previous no-confidence motion and restore a pro-government majority.
The Supreme Court’s anti-defection ruling was to remain in force until parliament passed a law to deal with floor crossing.
With opposition lawmakers boycotting sittings, the anti-defection bill was voted through without the constitutional quorum needed to pass laws.
Earlier this month, the court reinstated four out of 12 former PPM MPs who were deemed to have lost their seats.
Submitted Bill to repeal the “Anti- Defamation Act” enacted by the repressive Government of Yaameen. An honour to submit this, on behalf of the Joint Opposition. The legislation was a draconian attack on fundamental rights, press freedom, and freedom of expression. #Maldives pic.twitter.com/pLGy9xPUab
— Abdulla Shahid 🎈 (@abdulla_shahid) October 25, 2018