New CCTV footage of the arson attack that destroyed opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV’s offices shows several of the six arsonists without masks, and implicates an additional six men in the arson attack.
CCTV footage aired by Raajje TV on Sunday (October 13) shows the six assailants who set fire to Raajje TV parking in front of the station’s headquarters. The men arrive on motorbikes with masks. However, one of them takes off his mask and then puts it back on before he enters the buildings.
The Maldives Police Services has also released CCTV footage showing two men donning masks on Ameer Ahmed Street, a few blocks away from Raajje TV offices, shortly before the fire at the station’s offices.
Raajje TV News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed told Minivan News he had received reports that police have arrested two men in the case. Police would not confirm arrests, but said they have begun a manhunt for the men caught on CCTV. Police have not released any information on the identity of the assailants.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have condemned the police for failure to defend the station despite Raajje TV’s repeated requests for police protection, and the forwarding of a specific threat the previous evening.
The station returned to air the same day on donated equipment and has begun broadcasting a report providing further details of the arson attack. According to the report, shortly before arsonists entered Raajje TV, an additional six masked men broke the glass front door of the Sri Lankan Airlines offices next door.
CCTV footage shows the six men using the elevators in the building to check the name boards on every single floor of the building. Meanwhile, people gather on the pavement outside and start to take photos of the broken glass.
Raajje TV believes the six men were trying to locate the station’s second studios.
“We believe [they] were attempting to torch both of Raajje TV’s studios. However, they were unable to torch the second studio because they could not locate it,” the station said.
Unable to find the Raajje TV offices, five of the six get on motorcycles and drive away, while the other gets into a car parked in front of the building, the station said.
Meanwhile, at Raajje TV’s offices, five men doused the station’s control room and live electronics in petrol as the sixth man held the security guard hostage. One of the masked attackers poured a trail of petrol out the door as the others retreated downstairs. He lit the trail, creating a fiery explosion that briefly engulfed him. He stumbled down the stairs, just as fireball inside in the office exploded the door of the station off its hinges. Further footage shows a massive explosion of fire in the control room of the station.
According to Raajje TV, after torching the offices the men beat the security guard, covered him in gasoline and left him on the ground floor of the building. Five of the six then get on motorbikes, accidentally leaving behind the man who was burnt in the explosion. One of the motorbikes comes back a few minutes later to retrieve him, Raajje TV alleged.
Crew on the airport ferry – docked opposite the station – told Raajje TV they had attempted to call the police since the doors of Sri Lankan Airlines offices was shattered, but police had not answered the 119 emergency number.
Other witnesses told Raajje TV they ran to a police vehicle parked 200 feet away from the station’s office on seeing the assailants leave. The police then took action, the source said.
Raajje TV believes a total of 12 men were involved in the attack. Of the 12, four went to Hulhumalé after the attack, four went to a picnic island in Meemu atoll, and four went to Ellaidhoo Island Resort, the station said.
Speaking to Minivan News, Raajje TV’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed said the station had suffered over a million US dollars in damages, and is currently functioning on donated equipment. The station is still unable to cover live events.
“Our staff are our biggest asset, not the equipment that was burnt. They have to put in double the effort to produce news. I’m very proud of them,” Asward said.
Raajje TV has opened up a bank account for donations at Bank of Maldives (BML). Deposits can be made to BML Account no. 7704 700410 001. Asward said the station had received approximately US$10,000 in public donations as of today.
The station has alleged police and government involvement in the arson attack, namely Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.
Adheeb has denied the allegations and said they “politically motivated, biased, baseless claims.”
“Targeting political rivals will only impede efforts at finding the real culprits,” Adheeb told Minivan News.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 7 released a statement criticising what it called police failure to defend the station.
“This criminal act is a direct blow to freedom of information and we deplore the attitude of the police, who failed to do what was necessary to prevent the attack although the head of TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place,” the statement said.
Speaking to the press the following day, Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz said the police had been unable to station officers at Raajje TV as many were being utilised at the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests following a Supreme Court order to suspend presidential elections.
“Our human resources are too limited to have police stationed there. So we get the police to check the area when they are out on patrol,” he said.
Raajje TV has increasingly come under attack since the controversial transfer of February 7, 2012. The station’s reporters have been assaulted and arrested, while the station has suffered several sabotage attempts.
In July 2012, the police and the President’s Office had said it would not cooperate with the TV station, blocking the station from President’s Office’s press conferences and police protection at protests.The Civil Court has since ruled that the police and president’s office’s decisions to ostracize the station were unconstitutional.
In August 2012, critical cables in the station’s control room were cut, terminating the station’s broadcast. Several Raajje TV journalists have also reported arbitrary arrests and assaults. In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Asward leaving him with near near-fatal head injuries.
According to Raajje TV, the station has an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media.
New CCTV footage Raajje TV aired of the assailant’s arrival at the building
CCTV footage aired by the Maldives Police Services
Raajje TV report on arson attack (In Dhivehi)