The Maldives has dropped to 108th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.
The index reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations and netizens enjoy in each country and the efforts made by authorities to ensure respect for this freedom.
In February 2013, opposition aligned broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, whilst the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.
Maldives is ranked between Fiji and the Central African Republic. Fiji, at 107, experienced a coup in 2006, and the Central African Republic, at 109, is in the midst of a civil war following a coup in 2013.
Speaking to Minivan News, the President of the Maldives Journalist Association Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said he did not understand why the Maldives’ ranking should decline as compared to 2013, claiming there have been no “extra-ordinary” changes in media freedoms.
However, the ex Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Husham said the Maldives has seen a sudden decline in press freedom following the ousting of the country’s first democratically elected government in 2012. Journalists have been experiencing physical and psychological intimidation, he said.
Husham accused the newly elected President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his administration of not being responsive to the press and said he had resigned from the MMC last week in protest.
Asward is the second journalist who survived a murder attempt in the country’s recent history. In June 2012, two men slashed freelance journalist and blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed’s throat with a box cutter. Hilath is currently seeking political asylum abroad.
Two men wielding steel bars on a motorcycle severely beat Asward and left him for the dead. He was airlifted to Sri Lanka to undergo major surgery, and returned to the Maldives after three months of medical treatment.
He has not yet regained full sight in his right eye. Two men have been charged with assaulting Asward in the ongoing case.
In October, six masked men set fire to Raajje TV’s headquarters and destroyed the station’s offices, control room, computer systems, broadcasting and transmission equipment. The attack came hours after the station sent a written request to the police seeking protection having received reports of an impending attack.
The RSF issued a statement condemning the Maldives Police Services 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 the TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place,” the statement read.
The Police Integrity Commission has recommended charges be filed against two police officers for negligence in preventing the attack.
Further, the police and President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration continued a boycott of Raajje TV despite a Civil Court ruling stating media boycotts to be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has ordered the police to launch an investigation against the station for alleged contempt of court.
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, and 2006 – 144th. The country’s ranking in 2009-2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom, rising to 51st and 52nd respectively. The ranking slipped to 73rd in 2011 and 103rd in 2012.
Despite its plunge in 2013, the Maldives is still ranked higher than regional neighbours India (140th), Sri Lanka (165th), Pakistan (158th), Bangladesh (146th), and Nepal (120th).
According to the RSF, the Indian sub-continent is the Asian region with the biggest rise in violence for journalists for the second year running.