The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin as well as the government to drop charges against Channel News Maldives’ (CNM) senior journalist Abdulla Haseen.
“We note with regret that this is the first criminal prosecution of a journalist since the adoption of a democratic constitution in 2008,” the main opposition party said in a press release on Wednesday night (September 3).
Haseen is currently on trial at the Criminal Court on charges of obstructing police duty during an MDP demonstration on July 21, 2012.
The former Minivan Daily reporter is accused of shoving police barricades at the Chandanee Magu-Orchid Magu junction and using obscene language to address riot police officers.
At the first hearing of the trial last week, Haseen pleaded not guilty and noted that he attended political rallies and street protests to cover them as a journalist.
“This is a charge raised deliberately by the state against press freedom,” Haseen told reporters after the hearing.
“And this is an opportunity to experience for myself how the Maldivian criminal justice system functions.”
The court granted a five-day period for Haseen to hire a lawyer.
In addition to Haseen, Abdulla Idrees of Gulfaamuge in Laamu Maavah and former opposition MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor are also facing similar charges. The cases were conducted concurrently during the trial.
The next hearing of the case has been scheduled for September 28.
The MDP expressed concern with the filing of charges over two years after the incident allegedly occurred, noting that obstructing police duty was the most common charge pressed by the state.
“And we note with concern that Abdulla Haseen is being prosecuted at a time when the media in the Maldives is facing serious challenges with journalists assaulted, television stations torched, death threats made against journalists, personal safety of journalists lost, and a journalist believed to have been abducted,” the press statement read.
The party added that the Maldives has plummeted in press freedom indexes of international media organisations and called on the state to ensure security for media personnel.
In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.
In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.
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. The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation, rising to 51st and 52nd respectively.