The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has expressed concern with the Supreme Court asking police to investigate a report aired by opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.
The MMC noted in a press release yesterday (October 25) that attending complaints concerning the content of Maldivian media outlets and taking measures was within the legal mandate of the media council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).
“The Maldives Media Council Act states that it is the media council that should investigate issues concerning press freedom and take measures. And a police investigation of such a case would be an obstruction of the press freedom established in the Maldives as well as an act that would instil fear in the hearts of journalists,” the statement read.
The MMC statement concluded by urging all state institutions to submit complaints regarding the media to the council and to “respect the laws and the bounds of the constitution.”
According to local media reports, the Supreme Court asked both the police and the broadcasting commission to investigate the Raajje TV report.
Mohamed Shaheeb from the broadcasting commission told newspaper Haveeru that the Supreme Court ordered the commission to share the findings of its investigation within 10 days.
Shaheeb noted that the law gave the commission 60 days to investigate complaints, adding that it had to provide sufficient time to the accused media outlet to respond to the charges.
The offending programme on Raajje TV reportedly compared the state of the Maldivian judiciary to the injustice of ancient Sodom.
Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.
“Contempt of court”
The Supreme Court has previously asked the police to investigate lawyers and MPs for alleged contempt of court for publicly criticising the judiciary.
In February 2013, the Supreme Court suspended lawyer Abdulla Haseen after he criticised the judiciary in an appearance on Raajje TV.
Haseen was barred from advocating in any court in the country while the Supreme Court asked police to investigate him for contempt of court.
The Prosecutor General’s Office however decided not to prosecute Haseen after police concluded its investigation.
However, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Alhan Fahmy have been charged with contempt of court after allegedly defaming the Supreme Court.
In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern over “the case of a lawyer who had been indefinitely suspended by the Supreme Court for allegedly criticizing one of its judgements in public”.
“Such a suspension leaves no avenue for appeal and review and it represents a violation of the rights of the lawyer. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about reports regarding threats of contempt of court used to muzzle the freedom of expression of lawyers,” the report stated.