Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led protest last night.
The protest began last night as a gathering in front of party’s head office, but degenerated into a riot when protesters marched to the President’s official residence of Muleeage.
Police attempted to restrict the activists from going any further when they reached Sosun Magu, but demonstrators broke through police lines and continued their march.
A journalist from Miadhu, Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by the police.
The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.
Editor of DhiTV Midhath Hilmy claimed that three journalists from DhiTV were injured during the riot.
“One was hit by a tear gas canister and his head was bleeding, another journalist’s leg was injured,” said Midhath. “Police hit another DhiTV journalist three times in a chest with a baton.”
Midhath said all the journalists from DhiTV was wearing their press identification and were carrying video cameras.
Police were the persons supposed to protect the journalists, Midhath said, adding that he regretted the police attacks and hoped it would not occur next time.
‘’According to video footage take by journalists, I can see police have tried to stop the coverage and sometimes had covered the camera by putting their hands on it,’’ he said. “They also ordered the media to stop the coverage.’’
Editor of Miadhu Abdul ‘Gabbe’ Latheef told Minivan News that according to the injured Miadhu journalist, the police attacked her with baton while she was showing them her press card.
‘’She told me that some of the police referred to her rudely, while other police officers provided assistance to her,’’ said Latheef. “The media should condemn these actions.”
Latheef said he understood that the police were in a difficult situation and “had communication errors and difficulty identifying journalists.”
‘’The case should be investigated by an independent body,’’ he added.
Local media reported that police actions were violent and hostile, and that police attacked the journalists deliberately while they were staying in the area police officers had advised them to remain in.
However, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam denied the claims and said some of the journalists working in the area had begun to show the characteristics as the opposition activists and engaged in hostile confrontations with the police.
‘’Some journalists opposed police orders and refused to stay in the security zone,” Shiyam said. “It would have gone smoothly if they had worked according to the orders,’’ said Shiyam. “Some journalists who opposed the police were moved away by using force.’’
He also claimed that journalists had tried to break the police lines and pass through the cordon. A Minivan News journalist was meanwhile obstructed from entering the area to cover the incident.
President of the Maldives Journalist Association Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir described the incident as “a black day for journalism in the Maldives”, and claimed that at least nine reporters were attacked by police with batons and shields.
“We will investigate each and every injury and ask journalists to send us their accounts of the incident.”
While those injured “were members of the mainstream media, reputable journalists”, Hiriga said he had heard reports that there might have been other journalists in the area “from an underground website”.
“It is an issue and some people have argued that the government should issue media accreditation,” Hiriga said. “The MJA doesn’t agree the government should do this – it needs to be an independent body.”
Image courtesy Maldives Journalists Association.