CAM working to block controversial ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Trailer

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) has said today that it is working to block the trailer of a film titled ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from being viewed in the Maldives.

The controversial film has been at the centre of perceived anti-American protests across the world. International media has reported that in certain cases, these protests have descended into violence, resulting in the deaths of a number of US nationals at certain embassies in Africa and the Middle East.

Addressing the availability of the trailer in the Maldives, CAM Chief Executive Ilyas Ahmed has said that the usual course of action in dealing with cases of offensive on-line content in the country was to block an entire website found to be hosting the material. However, since the trailer in this case was hosted on public video-sharing website YouTube, Ilyas said he was trying to find a way to block the video alone.

“Since YouTube is a popular site used by many people, it is not practical to block it. So instead of blocking YouTube, we are instead talking to Google first and trying to have this trailer alone blocked,” has was reported as telling local media.

Ilyas stated that this is the first time in the Maldives that content was being sought to be blocked in this manner. He added that the CAM had taken up the work after receiving a formal written request from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

The ministry had previously released a statement on Thursday (September 13) which called on people to show restraint, while condemning the movie.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party, the religious conservative party to which Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed belongs to also released a press statement the same day.  In the release, the party stated that the objective behind people being offensive to Islam was to drive millions of Muslims over the world to create unrest and do wrong.

The statement also asked protesters to refrain from causing harm to innocent people and damaging government or public property.

Crowds of people protested against the offensive movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ in front of the UN Building on Friday.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Raaje TV to commence satellite uplink service by mid-July as IFJ raises broadcast concerns

Raaje TV expects to resume satellite broadcasts to the Maldives’ outer islands by mid-July after alleging the government was behind delays in issuing a temporary permit needed to provide its services to a national audience.

The private media group’s  chairman Akram Kamaaluddin earlier this week claimed that political influence was behind a delay in obtaining a satellite uplink permit. Without such a permit, Raaje TV has claimed its signal is limited to an estimated 20 percent of homes in the country.

The broadcaster said that although it had now been given a temporary license to establish its own satellite uplink – it remained concerned about the present government’s overall commitment to media freedom.

A President’s Office spokesperson responded today that the government had no involvement in the reported delay in issuing the license. The spokesperson also questioned the validity of the broadcaster’s accusations considering a temporary permit had now been approved by the independent Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM).

The comments were made as media NGO, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), called for greater clarity by Maldivian broadcast authorities such as the CAM over the regulations it employed for supplying licenses to national media organisations.

“As this statement is issued, the MJA informs us that Raajje TV has been granted temporary uplink permission for six months,” said the IFJ Asia-Pacific in a statement released yesterday.

“We welcome this development, even if it is provisional, and call for a clear statement on the norms that will govern the use of the broadcast spectrum, in a manner that will provide ample room for multiple voices and opinions.”

Despite the temporary resolution of the satellite link issue that had affected Raaje TV’s services this week, the IFJ said it had was concerned that “guidelines for permitting plural sources of news and opinions for the people” may have been breached in the Maldives.

“Multiple sources”

“We urge the authorities in the Maldives to make the grant of uplinking permissions the norm, subject only to a list, preferably small and clearly defined, of ineligible entities. Rather than control information flows, the priority should be to ensure that multiple sources of news are available to the people of the republic in this time of political transition,” the NGO stated

“A review of broadcast policy cannot be the basis for denial of such permission, since such a review in today’s world can only move towards allowing greater diversity and competition on the air-waves and not towards restricting access”.

In outlining the current status of broadcast media in the country, the IFJ – which represents  600,000 journalists in 131 countries – claimed that Raajje TV was known for providing alternative news and opinions in the country compared to other private broadcasters .

However, the NGO claimed Raaje TV’s ability to fulfil this mandate had been restricted after it failed to receive a satellite uplink permit needed to ensure its services were available to a majority of islands in the country’s outer atolls.

“Of the four TV broadcasters operating in the Maldives, one is controlled by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), an autonomous body established under law. Though mandated to function independently, the MNBC is believed by opposition parties and independent journalists, to be highly biased towards the government that came to power on February 7, after a police revolt toppled the elected president,” the NGO added. “Of the private channels, two are owned by businessmen with known links to the current regime, according to sources in the Maldives.”


Speaking to Minivan News today, Raaje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin said he expected the government would continue to try and create “hurdles” in an attempt to restrict Raaje TV’s broadcasts even after the group obtained a temporary license this week.

Akram alleged that the channel had already been forced to establish its own independent satellite uplink as the government had been influencing major national telecom operators into not providing technical assistance or services to the broadcaster.

“They have given us this temporary license, but there is no guarantee that they won’t try to interfere with our services in other ways,” he claimed.  Akram added that the establishment of Raaje TV’s independent satellite uplink was designed to try and ensure more stability for its services in the future.

Raaje TV’s management have alleged that the CAM had guaranteed that a license would be awarded to the broadcaster on Sunday (July 1) in relation to an application sent two weeks previous.

Akram maintained that the Ministry of Transport and Communication had acted outside of its jurisdiction and influenced the CAM into not issuing a license on the grounds that its existing policy was under review and an uplink could not therefore be provided until this was complete.

Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News earlier in the week that the allegations of his ministry acting in a politically motivated manner against the broadcaster were a result of Akram “making his own judgement” about the matter.

He therefore maintained that Raaje TV would be given the uplink permit, though was unable to set a date for when it would be made available.

“I spoke with Raaje TV [on July 2] and told them they would be given the license as soon as possible” he said at the time. “I don’t have a time limit for when this will be.”

Shamheed stressed that the process did take time and that the CAM’s Chief Executive, Ilyas Ahmed, had been away until this week, delaying response to the matter.

When contacted today about the concerns raised by the IFJ, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that he welcomed the license being awarded to Raaje TV and stressed the government had no involvement in the issue.

“I am glad that the broadcaster got what they were after,” he said.

With the permit having been awarded, Masood questioned the validity of Raaje TV’s bias allegations.

In addressing these allegations, Masood added that the government had “no involvement” concerning the work of the CAM, which he said was established to operate as an independent body free of government control.

“I don’t know the composition of the CAM is, it is appointed by the parliament,” he said.

Masood added that he was not able to speculate on the possible political affiliations of individuals within an organisation like the CAM.


Blog crack-down “is just the beginning”, warns censored blogger

The website of controversial Maldivian blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed has been shut down by Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material, a CAM statement read.

CAM Director Abdulla Nafeeg Pasha told Minivan News the Islamic Ministry has the power to regulate website content.

Pasha did not wish to comment on the procedures for closing down a website, but said “if the ministry tells us to shut it down, that’s what we do. We do not make the decision.”

Once closed, Pasha explained, a website can only be re-opened by order of the court.

Islamic Minister Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari had not returned calls at time of press, and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry Mohamed Didi had not responded to enquiries.

In a statement issued today Hilath defended his blog as an expression of his Sufi Muslim identity.

“I am a Sufi Muslim and there is nothing on my website that contradicts Sufi Islam. I suspect my website was reported by intolerant Sunni Muslims and Wahhabis,” he claimed.

Under the Maldivian constitution every Maldivian is a Sunni Muslim. The constitution also provides for freedom of expression, with Article 27 reading “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

New regulations published by the government in September, enforcing the 1994 Religious Unity Act, bans the media from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio “that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

“This also includes the broadcasting of material (on other religions) produced by others and recording of such programs by the local broadcaster, and broadcasting such material by the unilateral decision of the local broadcaster,” the regulations stipulate. Under the Act, the penalty for violation is 2-5 years imprisonment.

Hilath claimed he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith.

“I call upon all concerned to amend the clause in the constitution which requires all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslims only,” his statement read.

“‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,’ and ‘There is no compulsion in religion’,” he said, quoting Qur’an 109:6 and 2:256.

Hilath believes the block of his website has a political edge. “If Sunni Muslims are the conservatives, then the Sufi Muslims are the liberals,” he told Minivan News. “I think this is a conservative attack on the site. They think if you’re not a Sunni, you’re an unbeliever.”

Hilath said he would approach the issue from its constitutional roots. “If I want to unlock my blog I will have to go to court, where they will say I’m an unbeliever which is illegal. So I will have fight the larger issue of the constitution,” he said.

The label of ‘unbeliever’ was tantamount to ‘enemy of the state’, he said, adding that bloggers such as himself were afraid of the consequences of being labelled as such. Hilath is one of only a few Maldivian bloggers who write under their own names.

In January 2009 the Islamic Ministry shut down several blogs for allegedly publishing anti-Islamic material. The action closely followed then-newly elected President Mohamed Nasheed’s statement that the Maldives would be a haven of free expression.

Hilath said he was ashamed of the government’s maintenance of its original declaration for a liberal democracy. “I know the President said this was a liberal democracy, but I am ashamed that the Islamic Ministry has assumed so much power,” he said. “I call upon the president to address this issue.”

A 2009 review endorsed by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication defined freedom of expression in the digital age as dependent on “neutral” networks “in the sense that the flow of content should not be influenced by financial, cultural or political reasons.”

“In particular, in the case of filtering, the origin of filtering lists and the underlying criteria and processes should be publicly available,” read the report.

The report made three recommendations for the Maldives:

1) To stop blocking websites as was done in March 2009;

2) If blocking is necessary, it should only be pursued following a favorable court decision;

3) To foster open discussions on internet regulation among citizens, government members, NGOs and international parties.

To Hilath’s knowledge, this is the first time a websites has been blocked since January 2009. He believes his website is part of a “bigger conservative fight against the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party” and is only the beginning of a new wave of censorship.

“This time I think the conservatives behind the Islamic Ministry think they can put pressure on the government to see all these things as anti-Islamic, like with the SAARC monument issue. More blogs will probably be blocked. I think this is just the beginning.”

The opposition to Hilath’s blog “is a minority of the population, but it’s very vocal and active,” he said. By contrast the younger generation, which composes approximately half of the Maldives population, may take a different view, he claimed.

“The younger generation is educated and enlightened about religion and freedom and Islamic principles. I think the majority will support my move. But few feel free to speak out,” he said.

Mohamed Nazeef, President of Maldives Media  Council (MMC), said he was not familiar with the blog in question. However he said that the media – even bloggers – were subject to the society it served.

“Even when you talk about democracy there are ethics, and you have to respect the prevailing culture of the country and the needs of its people. Even in the name of freedom there are boundaries. That’s why we have a media code of ethics.”

When asked whether a citizen’s blog could arguably represent or oppose the greater good, Nazeef explained that a balance between people and the law was important.

“The constitution must be respected because people are under the constitution. Nobody is above the law. If you want to do something that is not allowed you have to properly amend the law.”