The Maldives has plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.
“The events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders,” RSF observed, in its annual ranking of 179 countries.
“Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago,” RSF noted in its report.
The index ranks countries according to levels of press and media freedoms. Countries with the best levels of press freedom rank highest, with northern European and Scandinavian countries filling the top three positions: Finland, Netherlands and Norway respectively. Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea took the bottom three places.
The Maldives’ ranking places it alongside Mali (99th), which experienced a military coup last year, and Fiji (107th), which experienced a coup in 2006.
Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th, and 2006 – 144th. The country’s ranking in 2009-2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom, rising to 51st and 52nd respectively. The ranking slipped to 73rd in 2011.
Despite its plunge in 2012, regionally the Maldives still ranked higher than India (140th), Sri Lanka (162nd), Pakistan (158th), and Bangladesh (144th).
“Only three Asian countries are in the top 25 percent of the table, while 15 countries are among the bottom 45 places,” observed RSF.
“Unsurprisingly, one-party authoritarian governments figure more than ever among the predators of press freedom and languish at the bottom end of the table.”
“Press freedom has crashed”: former President
“Press freedom in the Maldives has crashed since Dr Waheed’s coup,” read a statement today from former President Mohamed Nasheed.
“Security forces have beaten up journalists, and the regime has targeted and threatened independent media outlets,” Nasheed wrote.
“One of the defining images of the coup was Dr Waheed’s own brother leading a gang of mutinying police and storming the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), pulling the station off air and locking the journalists in a room. Suppression of the media has been the hallmark of Waheed’s rule.”
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding at time of press.
The release of the RSF Press Freedom Index closely follows the release of the annual Freedom House survey of political rights and civil liberties, in which the Maldives was dropped from the list of electoral democracies alongside Mali.
The country’s political rights rating shifted from three to five (higher is ‘less free’) during 2012, “due to the forcible removal of democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed, violence perpetrated against him and his party, the suspension of the parliament’s summer session, and the role of the military in facilitating these events,” Freedom House stated.
Police and military join demonstrators in storming the state broadcaster on February 7: