Top govt lawmaker files defamation case against media

A top government lawmaker is seeking defamation charges against three prominent online newspapers and three private television stations for reporting comments made by the country's ports chief against a company owned by the outspoken parliamentarian.

Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) CEO Mohamed Junaid had told reporters in October that Meridiam Services owned by deputy parliamentary group leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Riyaz Rasheed had been billing for 160,000 litres a month despite MPL’s vehicles needing only 60,000 litres, resulting in a loss of MVR1.2 million (USD78,000) every month.

Riyaz had filed the case with the Maldives Media Council against online newspapers Avas, Mihaaru and Sun under the recently passed anti-defamation law for reporting Junaid's comments which Riyaz had dismissed as "blatant lies."

The lawmaker had also sought action against opposition aligned Raajje TV, government aligned Channel 13 and Sangu TV through the local broadcasting regulator.

Riyaz had earlier threatened to sue MPL and Junaid over the comments. He had also accused media of incompetence over failure to obtain a comment from his company before reporting the port chief's claims.

The law passed by the parliament despite widespread criticism, criminalises speech deemed to be defamatory, to comment against “any tenet of Islam”, to “threaten national security” or to “contradict general social norms”.

Those committing an offence under the bill can face fines and failure to pay the fine will result in jail sentence of three to six months.