Maldives slides in RSF press freedom index to 112th place

The Maldives has fallen to 112th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2015, dropping four places and marking a significant decline for the fourth consecutive year.

RSF annually ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria, including media pluralism, independence, respect for safety and freedom of journalists, and the country’s legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment for the media.

Last year saw numerous death threats sent to journalists, the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, and a machete buried at the door of the Minivan News office.

Speaking to Minivan News, Maldives Media Council (MMC) member Miusam Abbas contended that the decline in the press freedom index reflects the government’s restrictions on the media.

“The government has been pushing to restrain the media in so many ways,” he alleged.

“We have seen continuous threats to journalist where the government failed to investigate the matter and also the government has been biased in providing information to media as well.”

Miusam suggested Rilwan’s disappearance was the biggest factor in last year’s decline. Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint at 2:00am outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network released a report in September implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance. Home Minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

“It is a shame that the government has absolutely done nothing of relevance to find the journalist Ahmed Rilwan. I interpret this as a threat to the media in Maldives. After all, how can a journalist truly be free of fear while reporting when one of their colleagues has been missing for months?” Miusam asked.

Miusam also accused the government of actively assisting newly formed pro-government media outlets whilst deliberately recruiting journalists from other independent news organisations.

“This is an act to deliberately ruin targeted media organisations,” he claimed.

An environment where journalists could report freely in news organisations that were not financially dependent on politicians is essential for press freedom to flourish in the Maldives, Miusam said.

“If we look at the big media organisations now we can see that they are either funded or owned by a politician. The only solution I see is for the media to run as normal business without the backing of politicians or politically influenced organisations,” he explained.

Following the attack on the Minivan News office last September, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon expressed “deep concern” with the increasing intimidation and threats faced by journalists.

She assured that “the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen vowed that his administration would not take action against the media “no matter how far journalists take the freedom offered by this government.”

“Even now in newspapers and TV channels they are talking about various matters. Regarding the government or responsible officials in the government, they are saying there are people in the government who have committed various crimes,” he said, adding that the government would not order investigations or respond with litigation.

“So there will be press freedom in the Maldives under this government to an extent that journalists have never seen before. Criticism of the government’s actions is not that big a problem for this government. Talking about myself or my character is not a problem for me. So why wouldn’t there be press freedom?”

Yameen’s remarks came shortly after his administration faced criticism over the absence of either the president or a cabinet minister at a ceremony held to mark World Press Freedom Day, which saw the introduction of the first Maldives Journalism Awards.


Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th.

The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation – rising to 51st and 52nd respectively.

However, the Maldives slid to 73rd in 2011, 103rd in 2012, and 108th in 2013.

In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.

The Maldives was ranked between Nigeria and Zambia in the 2015 index. With a score of 34.32, the Maldives was listed among countries with “noticeable problems.”

Three Scandinavian countries – Finland, Norway, and Denmark – topped the RSF index while Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea were the worst performers at the other end of the scale.

Related to this story

Maldives slides on press freedom index for third consecutive year

15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Criminal Court releases suspect in Minivan News attack

Q&A: “With patience, until I die” – Rilwan’s mother vows to continue the search


Journalist Asward condemns 18 month wait for justice after near-fatal attack

Raajje TV Journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed has condemned delays in prosecuting two men suspected of critically injuring him in a near-fatal attack in February 2013.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in May 2013 pressed charges against Ahmed Vishan, 22 years, and Hassan Raihan, 19 years, for assault under Article 128 of the Penal Code.

If found guilty, the two face a jail term or banishment between six months and five years, or a fine between MVR100 and MVR5000.

“Each day of delay is one more day without justice,” Asward told Minivan News today.

The Criminal Court held a hearing this morning in which a second anonymous witness said the suspects “looked very similar” to the two men they had seen fleeing the crime scene. However, the witness repeatedly said they could not be absolutely certain if the suspects were indeed the attackers.

Asward has blamed the witnesses uncertainty on the long trial process.

“Delays affect memory, making it difficult for witnesses to identify suspects. It also allows the attackers to tamper with evidence,” he said.

“It’s quite possible that the case will conclude saying that I beat myself up. It’s been 18 months since the attack. The courts must speed up the process,” he continued.

Noting the two suspects have been kept in pretrial detention since March 2013, Asward said delays in justice also violate rights of the two suspects.

The broadcast journalist also said the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Criminal Court have repeatedly failed to inform him of dates for court hearings.

“I found out today because our court reporter saw the case on the court schedule. This failure to inform me shows they are not particularly interested in completing the case,” he said.

The witness told the Criminal Court today they saw a man holding an iron bar getting on the back of an Air Blade motorcycle on the night of the attack. The witness said they did not see the actual attack.

On December 16, the first witness had also said told the Criminal Court they are unsure of the identities of the attackers, but also said the two suspects look very similar.

The anonymous witness said they saw a man with a three-foot long iron bar knock Asward down to the ground with a blow to the face. Afterwards the attacker hit Asward a few more times while he was on the ground.

The witness said Vishan “looked very similar” to the man who had attacked Asward.

Only the man on the back of the motorbike attacked Asward, the witness said.

The Maldives Police Services have said the attack appears to be premeditated, and former Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz at the time described the attack as a murder attempt.

Head of Serious and Organised Crime Department Mohamed Daud revealed that both suspects had criminal records and belonged to “groups” or gangs in the capital.

Daud claimed at the time that the attack was not thought to be politically motivated.

The attack left Asward unconscious, and he was transferred to a hospital in Sri Lanka for treatment, where he had to undergo major surgery to correct a maxillary fracture (broken jawbone). The beating has also affected Asward’s eyesight.


Police send summons to Raajje TV News Head and CEO

Police have sent a summons to Maldivian Democratic Party aligned private broadcasting channel Raajje TV News Department Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed and CEO Yamin Rasheed.

The summons chit did not specify why he was being summoned but stated it was in relation to a case being investigated by the police’s Serious and Organized Crime Department.

Speaking to Minivan News today Asward said that the police have not told him or Raajje TV why he was being summoned but have told other media outlets that the matter is related to a report he made for  Raajje TV concerning the Supreme Court and some issues with the judiciary.

”I asked the officers who handed me the summon chit,” he said. ”But they said they don’t know what’s it about.”

He said he will comment on the issue after going to police tonight.

Station CEO Yamin has also been summoned to police, saying the investigation surrounded a “normal report” broadcast on October 19 concerning the independence of the court, as well as issues surrounding Justice Ali Hameed.

Hameed – currently being investigated for his alleged role in a string of sex-tapes – has borne the brunt of attacks on the court following its annulment of the first round of the presidential elections this month.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission – mandated to oversee the media – yesterday expressed concern over a warrant issued by the Supreme Court ordering that the police investigate Raajje TV regarding the report.

Yamin today said that the commission had requested that the court rescind the order. He said that the police’s investigation of the report violated the Broadcasting Act, describing it as “unfair”.

Head of the commission Mohamed Shaheeb told local media last night that there was no use of keeping the commission if someone else was doing the its duties.

He said that anything related to the media should be investigated by the commission and not by anyone else.

Previously Shaheeb said that he talked to police commissioner Abdulla Riyaz regarding the case and that Riyaz told the commission it was an order issued by the Supreme Court and that there was nothing police could do about it.

In February this year, Raajje TV News Head Asward was attacked with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the  artificial beach area on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, the biggest street in Male’.

He barely survived the injuries and still is yet to fully recover.

Raajje TV’s offices were also sabotaged in 2012, with cables being cut in the station’s control room.

On October 7, five masked men entered Raajje TV station and set the place on fire burning the whole control room of the station to ashes.

The role of police on the night of the attack was criticised by both Raajje TV, who had given police notice that such an attack had been threatened, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“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.


Raajje TV arsonists caught on CCTV without masks

New CCTV footage of the arson attack that destroyed opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV’s offices shows several of the six arsonists without masks, and implicates an additional six men in the arson attack.

CCTV footage aired by Raajje TV on Sunday (October 13) shows the six assailants who set fire to Raajje TV parking in front of the station’s headquarters. The men arrive on motorbikes with masks. However, one of them takes off his mask and then puts it back on before he enters the buildings.

The Maldives Police Services 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.

Raajje TV News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed told Minivan News he had received reports that police have arrested two men in the case. Police would not confirm arrests, but said they have begun a manhunt for the men caught on CCTV. Police have not released any information on the identity of the assailants.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have condemned the police for failure to defend the station despite Raajje TV’s repeated requests for police protection, and the forwarding of a specific threat the previous evening.

The station returned to air the same day on donated equipment and has begun broadcasting a report providing further details of the arson attack. According to the report, shortly before arsonists entered Raajje TV, an additional six masked men broke the glass front door of the Sri Lankan Airlines offices next door.

CCTV footage shows the six men using the elevators in the building to check the name boards on every single floor of the building. Meanwhile, people gather on the pavement outside and start to take photos of the broken glass.

Raajje TV believes the six men were trying to locate the station’s second studios.

“We believe [they] were attempting to torch both of Raajje TV’s studios. However, they were unable to torch the second studio because they could not locate it,” the station said.

Unable to find the Raajje TV offices, five of the six get on motorcycles and drive away, while the other gets into a car parked in front of the building, the station said.

Meanwhile, at Raajje TV’s offices, five men doused the station’s control room and live electronics in petrol as the sixth man held the security guard hostage. One of the masked attackers poured a trail of petrol out the door as the others retreated downstairs. He lit the trail, creating a fiery explosion that briefly engulfed him. He stumbled down the stairs, just as fireball inside in the office exploded the door of the station off its hinges. Further footage shows a massive explosion of fire in the control room of the station.

According to Raajje TV, after torching the offices the men beat the security guard, covered him in gasoline and left him on the ground floor of the building. Five of the six then get on motorbikes, accidentally leaving behind the man who was burnt in the explosion. One of the motorbikes comes back a few minutes later to retrieve him, Raajje TV alleged.

Crew on the airport ferry – docked opposite the station – told Raajje TV they had attempted to call the police since the doors of Sri Lankan Airlines offices was shattered, but police had not answered the 119 emergency number.

Other witnesses told Raajje TV they ran to a police vehicle parked 200 feet away from the station’s office on seeing the assailants leave. The police then took action, the source said.

Raajje TV believes a total of 12 men were involved in the attack. Of the 12, four went to Hulhumalé after the attack, four went to a picnic island in Meemu atoll, and four went to Ellaidhoo Island Resort, the station said.

Speaking to Minivan News, Raajje TV’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed said the station had suffered over a million US dollars in damages, and is currently functioning on donated equipment. The station is still unable to cover live events.

“Our staff are our biggest asset, not the equipment that was burnt. They have to put in double the effort to produce news. I’m very proud of them,” Asward said.

Raajje TV has opened up a bank account for donations at Bank of Maldives (BML). Deposits can be made to BML Account no. 7704 700410 001. Asward said the station had received approximately US$10,000 in public donations as of today.

The station has alleged police and government involvement in the arson attack, namely Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Adheeb has denied the allegations and said they “politically motivated, biased, baseless claims.”

“Targeting political rivals will only impede efforts at finding the real culprits,” Adheeb told Minivan News.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 7 released a statement criticising what it called police failure to defend the station.

“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,” the statement said.

Speaking to the press the following day, 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.

Raajje TV has increasingly come under attack since the controversial transfer of February 7, 2012. The station’s reporters have been assaulted and arrested, while the station has suffered several sabotage attempts.

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 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 has an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media.

New CCTV footage Raajje TV aired of the assailant’s arrival at the building

CCTV footage aired by the Maldives Police Services

Raajje TV report on arson attack (In Dhivehi)


Raajje TV returns to air with donated equipment, after station’s firebombing

Hours after an arson attack that destroyed its offices, opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV began rebroadcasting with donated equipment at 12:40pm today, showing a report compiled with CCTV footage of the destruction of its offices.

“We have to start from zero. But Raajje TV will never die,” the station’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed told Minivan News.

The CCTV footage shows five masked men armed with machetes hacking at the locks on a reinforced steel grill. After destroying the lock and yanking open the grill, five men break through a second wooden door as a sixth man holds the building’s security guard hostage.

The footage then cuts to an indoor camera showing the arsonists dousing the station’s computers and desks and main lobby with petrol.

One of the men appears to threaten the security guard while the other attempts to calm him. The guard was later stabbed and hospitalised with critical injuries.

One of the masked attackers pours a trail of petrol out the door as the others retreat downstairs. He lights the trail, creating a fiery explosion that briefly engulfs him. He stumbles down the stairs, just as fireball inside in office explodes the door of the station off its hinges. Further footage shows a massive explosion of fire in the control room of the station.

The arson attack took place after the station requested police protection, following advance warnings it received the previous night of an impending attack. Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed to Minivan News this morning that police had received the letter requesting security, and said they “took action by patrolling the area.”

Asward, who in February 2013 was attacked by assailants with an iron bar that left him with near-fatal head injuries, said the station had restarted broadcasting from offices in a new building with equipment donated by the public, and had taken third party insurance for all of the station’s staff.

“I have been attacked. Our station’s reporters have been assaulted, beaten, arrested and threatened. Critical cables in our control room were cut. But we have always managed to overcome that” Asward told Minivan News.

The station restarted its broadcast with an interview of the Vice President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) Mohamed Shaheeb, followed by CCTV footage of the attack and an interview with former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed.

“We will not be able to cover live events because all of our equipment has been destroyed. We will not be able to bring in-depth coverage of the news as we have done in the past,” Asward said.

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

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.

The US Embassy has also expressed concern regarding the “upsurge in political violence.”

“The United States believes that a free and fair democratic political process depends on peaceful competition at the ballot box and an independent media available to all citizens. We urge authorities to quickly bring to justice those involved in these attacks and call for an end to all violence and political retaliation,” read a statement issued today.

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) condemned the arson attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, and criticised security forces to do more to protect journalism.

“Last night’s attack on Raajje TV Station, among the most viewed local channels by most Maldivians, was aimed to permanently shut down its service,” said the media body in statement.

“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. Nevertheless, there has not been much progress on this issue,” read the statement.

MMC President Husham Mohamed said the regulatory body would be raising an “issue” with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) over today’s attack.

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.

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.

CCTV footage of the attack on Raajje TV:


Two journalists among 23 arrested in continued MDP protests

Police arrested two journalists during continued protests by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in Male’ today.  The Maldives Police Service later released the head of news for private TV station Raajje TV Asward Ibrahim Waheed a few hours after his arrest. Ali Naseer, a journalist from Cable News Maldives (CNM), continues to remain in police custody – though is expected to be released soon.

A police official confirmed to Minivan News this evening, that the journalists, who were carrying identification, had been temporarily apprehended for “taking part” in the demonstrations.

The two journalists are among a total of 23 people to have been arrested during protests conducted this week at Republican Square in Male’. The protests, which began yesterday involving a few hundred people, have continued into this evening.

The MDP has held frequent demonstrations calling for early elections alleging President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in a coup d’état on February 7.

Speaking to Minivan News, journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed claimed he was arrested by police while attempting to cover footage of police beating a protester. Video footage of Waheed’s arrest posted on the internet appears to show the journalist running towards a police officer and a man in plain clothes as they hold down and beat a protester on the ground. Several police officers then rush at and surround Waheed.

“They came at me and one police officer grabbed me by the neck. They then twisted by arm around and threw me to the ground,” Waheed told Minivan News.

“They were very verbally abusive. They said we have been waiting to get hold of a Raajje TV journalist, arrest him! I don’t have visible injuries, but my neck and arms hurt,” he said.

Rajje TV regularly broadcasts live footage of MDP protests.  The broadcaster’s journalists have previously accused police of physical assault and harassment following the transfer of power. Meanwhile, CEO of Raajje TV Akram Kamaldeen has claimed in local media that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb assaulted him last Thursday (July 5).


Minivan News today observed MDP members heckling police across temporary barricades erected at the Republican Square. Protesters mobbed several police and military officers on motorbikes as they attempted to drive through the crowd gathered at the barricades.

In an official statement, police said all the arrests made related to people breaking through police barricades and obstructing officers from their duty.

Police also alleged that protesters damaged the Auditor General’s car at 9:00am.

“We will take necessary action if the MDP continues to shout and disturb the peace after 12:00 am tonight,” police said.

In addition to the 23 people detained today during the protests, police yesterday arrested 18 individuals.

The MDP has subsequently released a statement condemning the arrests claiming police were arresting peaceful protesters and impeding freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

“We call for the immediate release of all those arrested against the law,” the statement said.

The protest was continuing at time of press.