Prosecutor General’s Office drops charges against CNM journalist Haseen

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has dropped criminal charges against Channel News Maldives (CNM) senior journalist Abdulla Haseen for obstruction of police duty during an opposition street protest in July 2012.

PG Muthaz Mushin told CNM yesterday that the decision to withdraw the case was made as the PG Office had found that such a case had not been prosecuted in the past after considering the incident and prosecuting guidelines.

Speaking to Minivan News, Haseen said the Prosecutor General’s Office has not yet formally informed him of its decision to withdraw charges.

“These are false charges raised by the state against press freedom and an attempt to defame me. They have absolutely no evidence. Until the Criminal Court annuls its court summons for September 28, I will go.”

A second hearing of the case had been scheduled to take place on September 28. Haseen had been accused of shoving police barricades at the Chandanee Magu-Orchid Magu junction and using obscene language to address riot police officers during an MDP protest.

At the first hearing of the trial, he pleaded not guilty and noted that he had attended political rallies and street protests to cover them as a journalist.

Haseen expressed concern over a “prevailing climate of press intimidation,” noting an increase in threats against journalists by anonymous sources, politicians, religious radicals and gangs, and arbitrary arrests by the police.

The Maldives now ranks 108th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared on August 8 and is believed to have been abducted. Today marks the 41st day since his disappearance.

Earlier this month, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) called on the PG and the government to drop the charges against Haseen.

“We note with regret that this is the first criminal prosecution of a journalist since the adoption of a democratic constitution in 2008,” the main opposition party said.

The MDP expressed concern with the filing of charges over two years after the incident allegedly occurred, noting that obstructing police duty was the most common charge pressed by the state.

“And we note with concern that Abdulla Haseen is being prosecuted at a time when the media in the Maldives is facing serious challenges with journalists assaulted, television stations torched, death threats made against journalists, personal safety of journalists lost, and a journalist believed to have been abducted,” the opposition party said.