The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has condemned death threats against state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) Deputy Editor Aishath Leeza Laurella.
The presenter had been the subject of criticism from certain political groups over the past week after a series of programmes interviewing the candidates of next month’s presidential election.
After the ‘siyaasath’ (policy) show’s inaugural interview with Jumhoree Party (JP) candidate Ibrahim Gasim, party officials accused the presenter of attempting to “demean” its candidate.
In a statement issued today, the MJA said that giving death threats because of the questions asked by a journalist or television presenter is not acceptable and slammed it as an act to terminate press freedom in the country.
The MJA called on the police to hasten the investigation of the case and stated that the interviews with the presidential candidates represented important work done by the media.
Police media officials today told Minivan News that a case was filed with police by Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) alleging that a group of people were plotting an attack on Leeza, posing a threat to her life.
The official explained that the investigation of the case was ongoing and that no arrests had yet been made. He declined to provide further information beyond this.
TVM is scheduled to televise a four-way presidential debate on September 1. Gasim’s JP yesterday confirmed that their candidate would be taking part, after suggestions he was considering a boycott of the station.
In February this year, Leeza and a second TVM journalist were hospitalised after being hit by projectiles containing some kind of irritant which local media reported to be paint thinner.
On the same evening, Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed – a reporter for private broadcaster Raajje TV – was left in a critical condition after being badly beaten by two men using iron bars in Male’.
In mid-2012, controversial blogger Hilath Rasheed had his throat slashed in an alleyway on Chandhanee Magu.
Rasheed was initially given a five percent chance of survival, but later recovered. He has since fled the country. No arrests were made in the case.
The Maldives plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2013, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.
The Paris-based organisation included ‘extremist religious groups’ in the Maldives in its ‘Predators of Freedom of Information’ report for 2013.
The 2013 report accused “leaders and members of fanatical groups in the Maldives” of “intimidating media organisations and bloggers and threatening them with physical harm in order to force them to exercise self-censorship.”
TVM was itself the scene of violence during the chaos surrounding former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation on February 7, 2012. The gates of the station – known as the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) prior to the transfer of power – were broken down by rampaging security forces.
“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” recalled one staff member.
The employee said that they were then ordered to patch through the Villa Television (VTV) channel, owned by JP leader Gasim. The nation then watched VTV on the state television’s frequency before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.
VTV soon became the victim of further violence as opponents of current president, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, attacked the station’s studios during unrest surrounding the attempted re-opening of parliament.