Members of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyihtunge Party (DRP) last night commenced the first in what they claimed was series of planned protests for the freedom of state media, in particular the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), which they accuses of being subject to government influence.
The protest was organised by the party’s Youth Wing, led by DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf. Former Deputy Leader of the DRP prior to his dismissal, Umar Naseer, was also heading the protest.
The opposition activists first gathered near the artificial beach before moving outside the MNBC studios in Galolhu ward.
Although the protest was supposed to be a peaceful gathering, confrontations erupted between opposition activists and a group of people who appeared from the nearby Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) head office.
”The ‘vigilant group’ from MDP came out of their head office while we were raising our voice in front of MNBC, and attempted to create violence,” said DRP MP Ahmed Nihan. ”Their faces are very familiar to us, we know them very well, they have been jailed several times and they have a number of criminal records.”
The confrontation was controlled by the police at its initial stage, and nobody was injured according to Nihan.
”At 11:20pm, we concluded the protests, but this is not the end, we will continue protesting,” he said. ”We know the government will be waiting for an opportunity to arrest us so that it will weaken our local council campaign, so bearing that in our mind we will continue the protests.”
He also alleged that MNBC did not cover the opposition protests because they were busy interviewing a government minister when the protest was going on outside.
”Later at the news they spoke about the protests and criticised us – they don’t even have time to broadcast the voice of citizens anymore,” he added.
Nihan further claimed that there were “some leaders” in the DRP ”who are very afraid to raise the voice of the people – all they do is sit at home and watch us protest while taking the credit for our work.”
MDP spokesperson Ibrahim Haleem denied that the group of people who attacked DRP activists were MDP members.
”MDP is too educated and civilized a party to do such things, they were not MDP supporters,” Haleem claimed. ”Maybe they thought they were MDP supporters because our head office is located near MNBC.”
He said that there were many citizens who were “very concerned” that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had returned to politics, and also very concerned that former DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer “is still leading DRP protests despite being expelled from the party.”
A political tug-of-war over Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) erupted in July 2010, after the executive signaled reluctance to hand control of state media to new body created by the opposition-majority parliament.
The state media outlets are operated by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), a 100 percent government owned company established by executive decree.
However in April parliament approved a law to establish a company called the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to operate the state media, with nine board members appointed by and answerable to parliament.
Serving Chairman of MNBC Mohamed “Madulu” Waheed and Managing Director Ibrahim Khaleel had proposed their names to the new MBC board, but were dropped from the shortlist by parliament.
“MNBC is a company established under a resolution by the president and all its assets and land also belong to the company under a contract,” observed the President’s Political Advisor – now Home Minister – Hassan Afeef in July.