Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.
“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.
Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.
Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).
“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.
A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.
An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.
“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said
Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.
“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.
Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.
Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.
“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.
Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.
“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.
Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.
“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.
MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister
“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.
Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.
Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.
History of threats
A threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.
The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not report threats to authorities.
In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.
DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.
In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.
On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.
The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”
Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.