Court hears witnesses in February 8 arson attack on Thinadhoo police station

The Juvenile Court has taken the statements of seven witnesses produced in defence of the minors charged with an arson attack on Thinadhoo Police Station in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll during the anti-government protest on February 8, 2012.

The incident followed the controversial transfer of presidential power and was accompanied by widespread unrest across the country.

The juvenile court’s media official told local media that there would be one more hearing scheduled before delivering the verdict where the state and respondents will be allowed to submit their final statement and last words.

According to the media official one of the four minors produced one witness in his defence, while a second minor produced six witnesses.

The court refused to give details of what the defence witnesses said due to the nature of the case.

However, the court confirmed that the next hearing was scheduled to next Monday (19 November).

Journalists and the public are not allowed to enter the hearings of cases conducted at the Juvenile Court.

Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaeema Nasheed did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

February 8 was a day which saw protests erupt across the country after a brutal police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the party’s controversial ousting from power the previous day.

Protestors on Gaaf Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo set fire to the police station, magistrate court, atoll council office, and all police vehicles. Nine policemen were attacked and subsequently treated at the Thinadhoo Regional Hospital. Police officials at the time declared the area unsafe for local policemen as “MDP supporters have threatened to attack the residences of policemen.”

Initially the police requested the Prosecutor General (PG) to charge 108 persons in connection with the unrest.

The PG pressed terrorism charges against the minors under article 6 (b), with reference to article 2 (f,g) of the Terrorism Prevention Act.

Article 6 (b) states that any person found guilty of the act of terrorism shall be sentenced between 10 and 15 years imprisonment or banishment.


Three motorbikes in front of MDP campaign hub set on fire

Three motorbikes parked in front of a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) jagaha (campaign hub) in the Manchangoalhi ward of Male’ were set on fire in the early hours of Saturday morning (November 2).

According to local media reports, the fire damaged the air condition system in the jagaha as well as the wall of the adjoining house.

A resident of the house said the fire was put out before it could spread by the fire and rescue department of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) working with civilians and the police.

Police said the arson attack was under investigation.


Three arrested in connection with Raajje TV attack

Three individuals  have been arrested in relation to last week’s attack on Raajje TV, local media has reported.

The suspects are aged 18, 21, and 24 and police are said to be searching for more people involved in the attack that destroyed the station’s premises on Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Male’.

Six assailants were seen committing the attack on CCTV, which included the stabbing of a security guard.

The role of the police in the attack was criticised by Reporters Without Borders who urged the police to bring the arsonists to justice.


MNDF deny reports of injured suspect in Raajje TV arson attack being treated at military hospital

The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has issued a statement denying reports spreading across social media that a suspect injured in the arson attack on opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) aligned TV station Raajje TV was being treated at the MNDF military hospital.

On October 7, a group of masked men armed with machetes, iron rods and petrol stabbed a security guard, forced open a reinforced door and set fire to the station, destroying its offices and control room as well as cameras, computer systems, broadcasting and transmission equipment.

CCTV footage of the attack showed the masked individual lighting the blaze briefly engulfed in flame, shortly before a fireball blew the door off its hinges.

The MNDF statement said the military hospital treated three firemen who were injured while trying to control the blaze.

”Two of the firemen were treated for burn injuries they received to the skin area near their ear, due to strong heat from the fire,” the MNDF statement said. ”The third fireman was treated for the injuries he received from the strong heat and smoke.”

The MNDF said the third fireman was admitted to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) after he had breathing problems.

The MNDF also said it was very uncivilised to spread such news without clarification. The statement did not state to whom it was referring to.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arson attack and criticised 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.

Meanwhile, Raajje TV quoted former president Mohamed Nasheed as alleging that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb “had a hand” in the arson attack on the station, and called on investigation authorities to obtain a court warrant to gain access to the former’s text messages and phone calls.

Adheeb dismissed the allegations as false.

”I won’t be surprised even if he made bigger allegations,” he said. ”Nasheed is always lying like that.”

Adheeb accused Nasheed of working against him due to his condemnation of the MDP’s calls for a tourism boycott.

Eyewitness to Monday’s attack told Minivan News that the attackers arrived on motorbikes.

”First one motorbike with two persons came, they were covering their faces with masks and one of them were holding an iron bar. We first thought they were getting ready to attack a person but the guy holding the iron bar smashed the glass of the building and the other bikes arrived just as the guy smashed the glass,” said a witness.

”There were three wave motorbikes and one PCX motorbike. The other guys were wearing masks when they arrived, they looked very calm when they entered the place and we did not see what happened inside but we noticed that they were in a rush when they came out of the building,” he said. ”They all left the area on the bikes really fast.”

According to the eyewitness, he saw the bikes coming out to Boduthakurufaanu Magu from Kurangi Goalhi and when they left they went straight towards Henveiru from Boduthakurufaanu Magu.

Speaking at the parliament’s government oversight committee, Raajje TV CEO Akram Kamaluddeen alleged to MPs that the arson attack on Raajje TV was a state organised crime.

Akram Kamaluddeen and Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yameen did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

The security guard who was taken hostage and stabbed told local press that the assailants arrived 10 minutes after the staff of Raajje TV had left the station.

The Bangladeshi national guard told the papers that he was inside the building when the assailants came and they asked him to lead them to the floor Raajje TV was on, but when he refused they tied his hand and took him upstairs with them.

He told the papers that he was stabbed and attacked inside the control room of the Raajje TV station, and that after attacking him they left him inside the burning building with his hands tied.

According to the security guard he was able to escape because the group left the door open. He said he came outside and called his supervisor, before fainting and being admitted to IGMH.

CCTV footage of the attack:


RSF “deplore attitude of police” in Raajje TV attack

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.

Broadcasting resumed

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.


Military deploys soldiers to protect Maldives media after arson attack

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has taken to the decision to provide security services to various media outlets across the country following the arson attack on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that military officers were now manning “almost all” the country’s television stations as well as the premises of other media outlets.

Colonel Raheem said that, rather than being a reaction to a specific threat, the MNDF had decided to assign officers to guard a number of media stations immediately following the arson attack that destroyed Raajje TV’s offices in Male’ this morning.

“This was our own decision, although some [media] have requested they be provided protection,” he said, adding that officers had also been deployed to Raajje TV, which relaunched its broadcasting this afternoon.

He added that MNDF officers were acting as part of ongoing efforts to provide security for any areas deemed “vulnerable”, having previously provided similar support in the past for the Maldives’ electricity and water infrastructure.

The Maldives Police Service today said it was not involved with the MNDF’s security operation, with its own officers instead performing patrols outside the perimeters of media organisations.

Raajje TV was attacked by a group of masked individuals who doused the station’s computers, desks and main lobby with petrol. The office’s guard was later stabbed and hospitalised with critical injuries.

The attack took place despite the station having previously requested police protection following warnings of an impending attack.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed this morning that police had received the letter requesting security, and said they “took action by patrolling the area.”

Media violence

The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants.  During the first attack – in August 2012 – assailants sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cables.

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.

Extensive damage was reportedly caused to VTV and its property, with the station briefly being brought off air – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”.

The Maldives Media Council meanwhile today released a statement condemning 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.

“In view of that, MMC has continuously requested to investigate these cases and asked security providers to be more attentive to media security issues. MMC is consciously discussing all relevant stakeholders to ensure protection of journalists and media stations.”

The MMC last week declared its intention to file a no-confidence motion in the Majlis against Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) members via Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee.

The council stated its belief that the broadcasting commission had failed to create a healthy broadcast media environment, instead creating fear and discomfort, and that it was therefore unable to fulfill the Broadcasting Act’s mandates.

Media freedom

MMC member and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir meanwhile today maintained that media should not cover live events and other developments in the country in a manner that would incite violence.

Zahir confirmed the MCC also published a statement yesterday (October 6) 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 said that the MCC were aware of a number of examples where numerous unspecified media outlets had been covering news in a way that could create unrest.

“Sometimes the language used by [these media outlets] goes beyond what is acceptable within democratic values,” he said.

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.

He added that all media had a responsibility to the nation to decide whether or not to cover statements that might lead to violence or unrest.

Asked if the MMC’s statements could infringe on constitutionally-guaranteed press freedom, Zahir argued that the media oversight body was responsible under law to ensure such media freedoms were used in the “right manner”.

“The point is media needs to work for a better society. Media freedom has to be for the betterment of society,” he clarified today.


Raajje TV destroyed in arson attack

Additional reporting by JJ Robinson

A group of masked men armed with machetes, iron rods and petrol set fire to opposition aligned TV station Raajje TV shortly before 4:45am today, destroying its offices and control room as well as cameras, computer systems, broadcasting and transmission equipment.

The attack comes days after Raajje TV broadcast a report titled “Forum 15” detailing a plan, including arson, to destroy the station.

According to Raajje TV’s Head of News, Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, six men forcefully entered the seven story building after stabbing the security guard with a machete.

The guard has been hospitalised and is receiving care for two stab wounds to his back.

The men then damaged the elevator and cut off the building’s electricity. The group continued to break through a reinforced steel door to access station’s offices on the second floor of the building, before covering all equipment in the building with petrol and setting it alight.

A crew member from the airport ferry – docked opposite the building – said he witnessed a group of masked men leaving the building, and the bleeding security guard run to police officers on the corner of the block.

“We were docking at around 4:40 am when I saw about eight masked and gloved men leaving the building. They were wearing jeans and t-shirts. I saw the security guard run out, he had blood on his back,” he said.

“There were policemen on the corner, he ran to them and it looked like they did not help. I say this because he ran back to the building and then ran back to them when people gathered there started shouting,” he told Minivan News.

“At the time there was smoke coming from the offices. Many people there told me they called the police when they saw what was happening. But the police did not answer the phone. and only answered once the whole place was ablaze,” he said.

Station staff were unharmed, although the Maldives National Defense Forces’ (MNDF) Fire and Rescue Services said they had rescued one woman who was trapped on the terrace.

According to the MNDF, the fire was reported at 4:45 am and was put out at 7:00 am. A computer store on the ground floor was also completely destroyed in the blaze.

The station was destroyed on the same day as the Supreme Court’s much-anticipated ruling on whether to allow elections to go ahead.

Station had requested police protection

The station’s reporters had all gone home by 4:00am after providing live coverage of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) ongoing protests against the indefinite suspension of elections by the country’s Supreme Court. Eyewitnesses had reported that the license plates of the arsonist’s motorbikes had been concealed, Asward said.

Raajje TV CEO Yamin Rasheed said the station had received reports at 8:00pm on the previous evening that it was in danger of being attacked that same evening, warnings which forwarded to police along with a written request for police protection.

“[The report] was very suspicious, and did not look like a joke. I wrote a letter to police asking for security and requested them to protect us from this attack. But there was no response,” he said.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed to Minivan News this morning that police had received Yamin’s letter “and took action by patrolling the area.”

Yamin said Raajje TV has extensive CCTV footage of the arson attack: “It will be very easy to investigate. But we’ve handed it over in past attacks and nothing has happened,” he said.

“We will resume our service as soon as possible. Our directors are very courageous and are willing to try again,” he added.

Vice President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) Mohamed Shaheeb has harshly condemned the torching of Raajje TV.

“This is a cowardly act that violates vital democratic principles of freedom of expression and press. This commission calls for an investigation and prosecution of those involved,” he said.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed said in a tweet that he strongly condemns the attack on Raajje TV, asking the “Raajje TV team not to worry and come back on air as soon as possible.”

Maldives Media Council President Mohamed Husham spoke out against lack of protection to the media in a tweet:  “We have not seen any results from the discussions to provide protection equally to all media.”

The Maldives Post Services has suspended services from its main office, which is located next door.

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.

The Civil Court has since ruled that the police and president’s office’s decisions  to ostracize the station were both unconstitutional.

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 reached India and Sri Lanka, and is also streamed online.


MP and councillor charged over February 8 arson attacks not present for court hearing

An MP and a Addu City Councillor both facing charges over alleged involvement in a series of arson attacks on February 8 this year did not attend a Criminal Court hearing of their cases today.

MP Mohamed Rasheed and Addu City Councillor Ahmed Mirzad were reported not in attendance during today’s court hearing as an official chit could not be delivered to either of the men, according to the Sun Online news service.

The two men are among 40 suspects currently facing trial over allegations of involvement in attacks on several state buildings during unrest and violent clashes with authorities that occurred in the country’s second city on February 8.

Local media has said that 32 of these suspects were in attendance for the trail today,with Sun reporting that hearings within the 12ft by 13ft court room could only be held three suspects at the time.

A court official told Sun Online that the majority of the eight suspects who had failed to attend today’s trial had not reportedly received their respective chits – mostly as a result of working abroad.


Addu City MDP MP, councillor face terrorism charges

The Prosecutor General’s Office on Thursday pressed terrorism charges against over 40 individuals accused of setting the Seenu Gan police station on fire on February 8, including Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed and Addu City Councillor Ahmed Mirzadh.

Terrorism charges carry a jail term of 10 to 15 years.

On February 8, a brutal police crackdown on an MDP march across Male’ sparked riots across the country. The crackdown came after thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets, rallied by former President Mohamed Nasheed who had declared that his resignation the previous day was “under duress.”

In the southernmost atoll of Addu, police stations, police vehicles and a police training academy as well as court buildings were set ablaze.

MDP MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency, Mohamed Rasheed ‘Matrix Mode’ was arrested in the wake of the violence in Addu City on February 8.

The Prosecutor General’s Office last week pressed charges against 21 people accused of damaging state property.

Trials have already begun for 13 people accused of setting the court house in Hulhudhoo ward of Addu City on fire.

The formerly ruling MDP has meanwhile condemned the “false charges” pressed against “elected representatives of the people of Addu City” and a number of citizens as “politically motivated”.

In a statement on Thursday, the party said it believes the charges represented “a deliberate attempt by the regime to destabilise the country ahead of the Commission of National Inquiry’s report into February’s transfer of power, which is due to be published on August 30.”

“Aside from politically motivated legal action, senior members of Dr Waheed’s regime, including Home Minister Mohamed Jameel, have publicly stated that the regime will arrest President Nasheed and ensure he spends the rest of his life in jail. These statements have been made despite the fact that a trial has not taken place, and while the Minister himself has stated that the ‘judiciary seems to be operating in wanton… and needs to increase public confidence,’” the statement read.