Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of private broadcaster Raajje TV and has criticized 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 on Monday.
CCTV footage of the attack shows six masked men armed with machetes and iron bars breaking into and entering the station’s headquarters and dousing its offices in gasoline before setting it alight.
Speaking to the press on Monday, 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. Nawaz also said the owners of Raajje TV were negligent in protecting their property given that they had heard of an impending attack.
“What I am saying is we are utilizing a lot of police officers in the current situation in Malé [the protests], this is not to say that we are not overseeing security on the streets of Malé. We would not do that. What I am saying is when something like this happens, Maldives Police Services gives the best service we can to everyone,” Nawaz said.
The police have received CCTV footage of the attack, but have not made any arrests yet. Nawaz appealed to the public to forward any information
“It is not just those people who carried out the act who are responsible and involved in this. We believe others are involved in this,” Nawaz added.
RSF have called on the police to launch an investigation immediately and urged the government to provide Raajje TV with proper equipment to help the station resume broadcast.
CCTV footage shows six masked men breaking the lock on a reinforced steel grill and the main wooden door, before dousing the station’s control room with gasoline and setting it alight. Further footage shows a fireball blowing the door of the station off its hinges as a massive explosion engulfed the control room.
The building’s security guard was held hostage during the attack and was later stabbed. He is currently receiving treatment for two stab wounds to his back. A woman who was trapped on the terrace of the building was rescued by the Maldivian National Defense Forces (MNDF).
“The police must immediately launch an investigation so that those who started this fire are arrested and brought to justice. We also call on the Maldivian authorities and the international community to help Raajje TV to resume providing news and information as soon as possible,” the RSF has said.
Reporters Without Borders added: “The national authorities have a duty to provide Raajje TV with proper equipment so that it can function in the same way as it did before the fire.”
Despite the fire destroying all of the station’s equipment, it started broadcasting a few hours after the attack – 12:40pm on Monday – with donated equipment.
The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants. In the first attack, in August 2012, the attackers sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cabling.
Several Raajje TV journalists have also reported arbitrary arrests and assaults. In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed 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.