Opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV is seeking international assistance to investigate the arson attack that destroyed its main office earlier this month – alleging concern at potential state involvement in the crime.
Police have so far confirmed that three individuals aged 18, 21, and 24 have been arrested over their alleged roles in fire bombing the private broadcaster, with investigations ongoing to identify other suspects involved.
A police media official declined to provide any more information on the investigation at time of press, beyond confirmation of the arrest of three suspects.
Six assailants were pictured committing the attack on CCTV. The attackers also stabbed a security guard for the building.
“I don’t think we can expect police to solve this” Raajje TV Chairman
Raajje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin has questioned the efforts and commitment of law enforcement officials to solve the case, with no further information shared by police so far over the progress of the investigation.
“I don’t think we can expect police to solve this, I highly suspect they may be involved in this,” he said. “So we are seeking international help with our own investigation.”
Kamaaluddin declined to provide further information of the nature of the international assistance he was seeking at time of press.
He alleged that the attack on its offices and control room by masked figures that destroyed cameras, computer systems, as well as broadcasting and transmission equipment was “state-organised”.
The station has continued to allege police and government involvement in the arson attack, namely Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.
Adheeb has denied the allegations, which he described as “politically motivated, biased, baseless claims.”
The private broadcaster has also accused officers of purposefully failing to protect it after reporting threats made against the station and its staff ahead of the attack.
The Maldives Police Service has previously confirmed that it had been made aware of threats to Raajje TV ahead of the attack on its office
On October 9, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) issued a statement denying reports spread on social media that a suspect suspected injured in the arson attack on Raajje TV was being treated at a military hospital.
The MNDF statement said the military hospital treated three firemen who were injured while trying to control the blaze, rejecting allegations of treating potential suspects while criticising efforts to spread news relating to the attack without clarifying the matter first.
Meanwhile, recently released CCTV footage of the arson attack shows several of the six arsonists without masks, and implicates an additional six men in the arson attack.
The Maldives Police Service 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.
Global NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arson attack and criticised what it called the Maldives Police Services’ failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.
“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,” RSF said in a statement.
Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz had previously said the institution 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.
The Maldives Media Council (MMC) condemned the Raajje TV attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, calling for security forces to do more to protect media outlets and journalists.
The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has meanwhile said it continues to call for those responsible for the attack to be brought to justice.
MMC member and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir today said he personally had not been made aware of any discrimination in the treatment of certain broadcasters by police.
Zahir argued shortly after the that media should not cover live events and other developments in the country in a manner that would incite violence.
Zahir confirmed the MCC had published a statement before the attack criticising any media found to be trying to incite institutions or individuals to perform violent acts.
The statement specifically condemned any media found to be spreading calls for “terrorism and unrest”, something it said was not permitted even in nations regarded as leading in international standards of press freedom.
Zahir cited one notable example of media inciting unrest was by covering the statements of certain politicians who encouraged people to “violate the law” and go against state institutions.
The attack is the second raid on the Raajje TV’s building by masked assailants. During the first attack – in August 2012 – assailants sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cables.
In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Raajje TV’s news head Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed Asward, leaving him with near-fatal head injuries.
The main office of Villa TV (VTV), a private broadcaster owned by Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader – and third-placed presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim – was attacked during anti-government protests on March 19, 2012.