Reporters Without Borders condemns arbitrary arrest of journalists for taking photos

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the growing number of arbitrary arrests of journalists by the Maldives Police Service.

In a statement, the press freedom NGO said it “deplores the repeated obstruction of media personnel in the course of their work and urges the government to put a stop to arrests designed to intimidate journalists and encourage self-censorship.”

The statement follows the arrest and detention of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Naish on August 30 while reporting on the arrest of a demonstrator. The area was not barricaded or otherwise designated off-limits by police.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef informed Minivan News at the time of the arrest that Naish had been arrested for “obstructing police duty.”

“Riot police known as Special Operations (SO) stopped Naish at 5:30pm in the Malé district of Sosun Magu as he was photographing them arresting a young demonstrator,” RSF reported.”They asked him for his press pass, which he did not have on him at the time, and, after refusing to accept his business card as identification, handcuffed him and led him away.”

“My hands were tied behind my back with a clip and the SO officer who did so kept tightening it,” Naish said, in his account to RSF. “Another officer kept pinching my arms and hitting my ankles with his boot, telling me to walk faster.”

More people were arrested, including two who had been taking photographs or videos of the police, RSF reported.

“They were bundled into a vehicle and taken to police headquarters and then transferred to a detention centre on Dhoonidhoo, an island just to the north of the capital,” the statement read.

“They took my personal belongings (…) I was then photographed and taken before an investigating officer who informed me that I was arrested for obstructing police duty and causing public disorder. I refused to sign the arrest form because, in addition to stating a false reason for the arrest, the place of arrest noted in the form was incorrect,” Naish informed RSF.

“After being placed in a large cell with other people arrested during the demonstration, Naish asked to see a doctor because his wrists were swollen,” read the RSF statement. “The doctor sprayed his wrists and gave him a painkiller. He was then allowed to speak to two lawyers and described to them the circumstances of his arrest.”

“I talked to seven people who were arrested similarly for taking photographs. However all were accused of obstructing police duty, disobeying orders and causing loss of public order,” Naish stated.

At around 2:00am he was moved to a large cell where 25 other people were already being held. He was finally released without charge the next afternoon, after being held for about 24 hours, RSF stated.

“I found out later than government-aligned private broadcaster Villa Television showed footage of my arrest, which would have confirmed that the police lied about the place of arrest. It would also show that I was not jeopardising public order,” Naish told the NGO.

Naish added that journalist Ali Nahyk with Minivan Radio 97FM – a station unaffiliated with the Minivan New online website – was arrested on 31 August for similar reasons.

“Maldives is ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, which was compiled before February’s turmoil, when President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign and Vice-President Mohammed Waheed took over. The media situation has worsened dramatically since then,” RSF observed.

“RSF reminds the authorities that arbitrary arrest violates article 46 of the Maldivian constitution, which says: ‘Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained, arrested or imprisoned except as provided by law by the People’s Majlis [parliament] in accordance with the article 16 of this constitution’.”

The organisation noted that media and netizens had “played an important role during the Nasheed administration’s ouster in February, photographing and filming aspects of the accompanying crackdown that embarrassed authorities.”

Bystander arrested for recording an arrest: