Local television station Raajje TV is enlisting the public to boost its security after learning of further threats from political opponents.
“We have a book open to register their names,” CEO Yamin Rasheed. “We are finding citizens to protect us physically.”
The station’s headquarters were destroyed in an arson attack committed in spite of advance warnings communicated to police.
A group of masked men armed with machetes, iron rods and petrol set fire to the station’s main premises shortly before 4:45am on October 7, destroying its offices and control room as well as cameras, computer systems, broadcasting and transmission equipment.
After receiving donated equipment, the station was able to resume a reduced service within hours of the attack.
Yamin said the station had received further reports this week – from “reliable sources” – of threats made against the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) aligned station.
“The same political alliance is behind the fresh threat, which says Raajje TV should be gone from the scene to meet their political needs,” he said.
The option to use private security was suggested by police after being made aware of the new threats.
“The Police also responded to RaajjeTV’s request of Police security stating that there are difficulties in placing Officers for security but the building and the area will be specially patrolled,” read a police statement today.
Yamin expressed doubt as whether this was the case, noting that other broadcasters had received the type of protection Raajje TV was now seeking, though he did confirm that police had been maintaining a 24hr presence in the area.
Eyewitnesses on October 7 suggested that police had been in the area on that occasion but had been slow to respond to phone calls, or to the pleas of the on-duty guard – who was stabbed during the attack.
The day after the attack, Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz suggested that MDP protests had diverted police resources on the night of the attack, before arguing that Raajje TV staff had been negligent in not protecting the premises.
The police’s failure to prevent the attack has been condemned by Reporters Without Borders who described it as “a direct blow to freedom of information”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also called on full protection for Raajje TV and other threatened institutions.
Police Inspector Azeem Waheed has written to Raajje TV CEO Akram Kamaaludheen this week requesting any information relating to past or threatened attacks on the station.
Since the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012, Raajje TV has faced increasing threats. 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.
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 had an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media. It reaches India and Sri Lanka, and is also streamed online.
The station is currently under investigation for allegedly defaming the Supreme Court in an October 19 broadcast. Yamin has refused to co-operate with the court ordered police investigation, arguing that such cases fall within the purview of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.