Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Maldives to guarantee the safety of journalists after 15 journalists received threatening text messages regarding coverage of gangs in Malé.
“Death threats lead to self–censorship,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of RSF’s Asia- Pacific Desk.
“The authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists. This includes arresting those responsible for these threats. The authorities must end the culture of intimidation and impunity by ceasing to turn a blind eye to abuses by the rival gangs.”
Journalists with Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Villa TV (VTV), Sun Online, and Vaguthu received an anonymous text on Wednesday saying, “[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media.”
The threats came in the wake of extensive coverage of a spate of violence in Malé which saw one dead and nine hospitalised with serious injuries.
The press freedom advocacy group cited a Maldives Broadcasting Commission report published in May, in which journalists said political parties were the main source of threats against journalists, followed by gangs and religious extremists.
“The threats encourage self–censorship, with 30 percent of journalists saying they are afraid of covering gang activity and 43 percent saying they do not report threats to the authorities,” the RSF said.
The organisation noted that although death threats are frequent in the Maldives, they are rarely carried out. However, the near fatal- beating of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed sets a “disturbing precedent.”
“As Malé is a small town, journalists have nowhere to hide when they are threatened,” noted RSF.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Asward condemned his 18 month long wait for justice. After a second witness failed to identify suspects with absolute certainty at the Criminal Court today, Asward said delays affect memory and allow attackers to tamper with evidence.
“Each day of delay is one more day without justice,” he said.
He called on the courts to expedite the trial and said he had no confidence the courts may deliver justice.
“It’s quite possible that the case will conclude saying that I beat myself up,” he said.
The Maldives Police Services have said the near fatal attack was not politically motivated, but connected to gang activity. Asward has denied this claim.
Gangs often seek media coverage of their actions, but turn against the media when the coverage is not to their liking or when media covers activities of rival gangs, note RSF today.
Gangs enjoy “complete impunity,” as politicians use them to threaten and pressure journalists or people they regard as opponents the organisation said.
The organisation also noted slow progress on prosecuting those responsible for the attack on Asward and the arson attack which destroyed Raajje TV office in October.
“Although the authorities have promised to defend media freedom, they have made little progress.”
Maldives is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
Six opposition parliamentarians have also reported receiving death threats on Sunday.