A reporter for private broadcaster Raajje TV is in a critical condition after he was badly beaten in Male’ early this morning.
Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed, a senior reporter for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned television station, was attacked with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the artificial beach area.
The attack left him unconscious, and he has been transferred to a hospital in Sri Lanka for treatment.
Speaking by phone from Sri Lanka, Raajje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin said Aswad’s condition had not improved at time of press.
“I am at the hospital in ICU with him right now. He is very critical but I can’t say anything else right now,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen at present.”
Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that no arrests had so far been made in connection with the attack and that it was too early to attribute a motivation to the incident. Investigations were ongoing, he said.
Police also confirmed that two reporters working for state broadcaster Television Maldives (TWM) were also hospitalised after they were hit by projectiles containing some kind of irritant, which local media reported to be paint thinner. The TVM reporters – identified as Aishath Leeza and Journalist Aminath Saanee – were later discharged, according to police.
“TVM reporters were also attacked last night; we believe by a protester or group of protesters,” Sub-Inspector Haneef said.
“We seriously condemn the two incidents and are trying to locate the suspects with all our means. We will be using all evidence we can get.”
An estimated 1000 to 1500 protesters were witnessed by Minivan News gathered on Sosun Magu in Male’ during Friday night’s protests. The demonstrations appeared calmer than in than recent nights, with music and flag waving, and minimal police presence.
A car belonging to Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed was also set alight.
The attacks on the journalists were condemned by the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) as an attempt to try and suppress media in the country.
Expressing concern today, MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir called for greater protection of journalists by police, while also requesting local media act more professionally and stop “spreading hatred”.
Zahir claimed that with local media being very much polarised along political lines, the MJA was concerned that “targeted” attacks on reporters such as those witnessed last night would potentially scare away futures generations of journalists.
“We have called on police to investigate these cases. What we know is that a Raajje TV reporter was on a bike when he was attacked with a metal bar,” he said.
Zahir would not speculate as to the motivation behind Aswad’s attack, but be claimed the two TVM journalists were attacked by anti-government demonstrators.
Media should try to keep behind police lines during demonstrations in order to better protect themselves from potentially coming under attack, he suggested.
“We call on police to give protection [to journalists], but they haven’t picked out one suspect [concerning the attacks],” he said. “I don’t know why they haven’t arrested anyone.”
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik condemned the attacks on the journalists via his official Twitter account.
“Strongly condemn attacks on journalists. No justification for brutal acts of terror,” he wrote on the social media site.
In a press release, the opposition MDP condemned the attacks against both the Raaje TV and TVM reporters, calling for a thorough investigation to determine the perpetrators “ regardless of their political affiliation”.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s spokesperson, MP Mariya Didi said the attacks affected “everyone who believes in democracy and media freedom.”
“Since last year’s coup, journalists have been repeatedly threatened, harassed and, in some instances, violently attacked by the police and by criminals. However, the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the problem,” she stated.
“Since the unlawful transfer of power there has been a sharp increase in violent crimes. But the police continues to preoccupy themselves with politically motivated arrests, rather than investigating these violent crimes. Over 800 MDP supporters have been arrested in the past year. Yet, murderers, drug traffickers and gangsters are left to roam freely,” she said.
“Months have passed since brutal murder of the MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and fatal attack on liberal blogger Hillath Rasheed, without perpetrators being found. Impunity enjoyed by the security forces is creating a culture of crime that is deeply concerning,” she added.
Earlier in the evening, before the attack on Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed, the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) posted a message on a Facebook page affiliated to the party calling reports on Raajje TV that it had called at a rally for MDP protesters to be killed as “completely false”.
The post warned that PPM “might have to come out against Raajje TV.”
PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf and potential presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen were not responding to calls at time of press.
The Maldives plummeted to 103rd in the most recent 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 attack on Aswad is one of the most serious assaults on a Maldivian journalist since blogger Hilath Rasheed had his throat slashed in an alleyway in mid-2012.
Rasheed was initially given a five percent chance of survival, but later recovered. He has since fled the country.