Raajje TV and VTV ordered to apologise for defamation

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has ordered private broadcasters Raajje TV and Villa TV (VTV) to apologise for defamatory material and ordered the stations to broadcast live events with a delay to minimise future defamation.

The broadcast media regulator said Raajje TV had aired an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meeting on September 23, 2013, in which an MDP member had defamed the Supreme Court bench.

VTV is said to have aired material defamatory to MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, MP Rozaina Adam, and Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek during its daily talk show ‘Fasmanzaru’ on September 27, 2013.

MBC has ordered Rajje TV and VTV to broadcast an apology and to allow the wronged party to speak in their defense by January 31. Furthermore, VTV has been ordered to broadcast ‘Fasmanzaru’ with a broadcast delay and Raajje TV has been ordered to broadcast all political events with a broadcast delay.

Speaking to Minivan News, VTV CEO Ibrahim Khaleel said the MBC’s decision “limited the freedom of the press”, and that the station did not see any reason to air an apology.

According to Khaleel, MBC ordered VTV to apologise for comments made on air by MP Ilham Ahmed and MP ‘Redwave’ Ahmed Saleem.

“The constitution guarantees freedom of expression within the tenets of Islam and we, as a TV station, gave airtime to politicians to express their opinions. No one has said anything contrary to a tenet of Islam,” Khaleel argued.

If any party feels they have been wronged, then the laws allow them to pursue defamation charges or to seek compensation through other means, he added.

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Yamin Rasheed also condemned the MBC’s decision as “discriminatory”.

“It is not fair when MBC only orders specific TV channels to air specific programmes or events with a delay,” Yamin said arguing that other broadcasters must also be ordered to broadcast all political events with a delay.

Yamin also expressed concern over MBC ordering the station to air an apology over an MDP MP’s comments. However, he said Raajje TV would broadcast an apology and would allow the Supreme Court judges an hour to speak in their defense.

MBC has previously ordered Raajje TV, Dhi TV, and Dhi FM to apologise for defamatory material.

Raajje TV was ordered to apologise in December 2013 for airing a report defaming the Supreme Court, but MBC said the report does not constitute a national security threat as alleged by the apex court.

Furthermore, in July 2012, MBC ordered Raajje TV to apologise for airing a report alleging that a policeman had stolen petrol from a motorbike, and in August 2012 the station was ordered to issue an apology on three consecutive nights for publicising Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim’s text messages

In March 2012, Dhi FM was similarly reprimanded for content aired following the overthrow of Nasheed’s administration on February 8, 2012.


Police officers “negligent” in Raajje TV arson attack: PIC

The Maldives Police Services was negligent in protecting opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV from an arson attack that destroyed the station’s headquarters on October 7, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has said.

In a report released today, the PIC has recommended that the Prosecutor General file criminal charges against two unnamed officers – the Inspector of Police and the Shift In Charge (Shift IC) – who were on duty at the Galholhu Police Station on the night of the attack.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had issued a statement on the day of attack condemning the police’s failure to protect 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,” RSF said.

Raajje TV had received credible information of an impending attack, and sent a letter asking for police protection, the report noted.

Senior police officers, on the orders of then Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, instructed the inspector of police in charge of the Galholhu Police Station to maintain a presence at the Raajje TV offices.

Further, upon realising there weren’t enough police officers to maintain static duty, a superior instructed the inspector of police to get additional officers from the operational duty department to carry out the task.

The inspector of police delegated the task to the shift IC, and falsely informed his superiors that police officers were on static duty at Raajje TV headquarters without checking to see if his orders were actually followed through, the report said.

Moreover, the Inspector of Police had not even asked the CCTV Command Center to aim the CCTV cameras at the Raajje TV building despite knowing the Maldives Police Services did not have enough officers to patrol the area that night.

The shift IC had “not done anything to find additional police officers to oversee security at Raajje TV,” the report stated. Moreover, the Shift IC had not informed any police officers patrolling Malé City that night of the possible attack on Raajje TV.

The PIC undertook the investigation on the Maldives Media Council’s request.

Meanwhile, the police say they have arrested eight adults and one minor for suspected involvement in the attack. Mohamed Meeaadh, 35 years, was arrested on December 2 after a manhunt.

The police have urged the public to forward any information regarding the attack and have pledged to provide protection to informers.

CCTV footage of the attack shows six masked men armed with machetes and iron rods breaking through a reinforced steel grill and a second wooden door before dousing the station’s control room and lobby with petrol. The ensuing fire destroyed the station’s offices, control room, computer system, and broadcasting and transmission equipment.

The station returned to air the same day with donated equipment.

Further footage shows an additional six masked men breaking and entering the building located next to the BKT Builing where Raajje TV’s offices are located. Raajje TV has said it believes the six men were attempting to find the station’s second studios.


Raajje TV’s leadership set to face criminal charges over report on judiciary

Police have sent the case involving senior officials of opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje Television for prosecution today (December 1), after concluding the Supreme Court-ordered investigation into a report aired by the station which criticised the Supreme Court and the judiciary.

The police media official confirmed to Minivan News that the case had been sent for prosecution. Furthermore, the official also confirmed that they had requested the Prosecutor General press charges against both the News Head of Raajje Television Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed and the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Station Abdulla Yameen Rasheed.

Last October, the Supreme Court ordered the Police and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to investigate a report aired by the station earlier in the month.

According to local media reports, the report titled ‘how trials were held by people of Sodom’ compared the inconsistent decisions made by the Maldivian courts of law – specifically the Supreme Court – with the bogus trial practice of Sodom and Gomorrah – a biblical city mentioned in the Quran, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

The report also claimed that the Maldivian judiciary had fallen into the same state as that of what was the state of trials in Sodom, citing the sex-tape scandal of the Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed earlier this year.

Following the Supreme Court order, both the ‘Aswad’ Waheed – who was brutally beaten by a group of thugs last year – and Yameen were summoned by the police for questioning.

Shortly after the summons, Raajje TV informed the police that it would not be cooperating with the investigation arguing that it was the mandate of the MBC to investigate.

“Even the Police admitted that this matter had to be looked into by the MBC. However they said that due to the Supreme Court order, they are obliged to continue with the investigation,” said the Deputy CEO of Raajje Television Yameen.

The station also contested that the Supreme Court’s order to investigate the matter had been an unlawful one, and therefore it was void from the outset. However, the police proceeded with the investigation.

Under the ‘Regulation for Protecting the Courtesy of Courts’, any disrespectful remarks made against a court of law either by speech, writing or by any other means is a criminal offence.

Speaking to local media regarding the Supreme Court’s order Aswad said that it took a great effort to ensure that defamation was decriminalised during the regime of Maldives former thirty-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“The police investigation into this case could mean journalists would again go to jail for what they write. This again, is another new threat to free media in the Maldives,” Aswad Waheed told local newspaper Haveeru earlier.

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) also echoed similar concerns as that of Aswad, citing that the case could negatively impact the freedom of media in the country.

“The Maldives Media Council Act states that it is the media council that should investigate issues concerning press freedom and take measures. And a police investigation of such a case would be an obstruction of the press freedom established in the Maldives as well as an act that would instil fear in the hearts of journalists,” read a statement released by the council following the police summons.

Minivan News was unable to determine the specifics of the criminal charges that Aswad and Yameen may face as the media official of the Prosecutor General’s Office was not responding to calls at time of press.


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)


Arson, rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray: MDP protests continue

Violence escalated during ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests on Wednesday night in Malé, with the party alleging police used rubber bullets and pepper spray, beat protesters with batons, and used excessive force to disperse the party’s four-day long protests. Police have denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, police barricades and a car belonging to Minister of Human Rights and Gender Dhiyana Saeed, were set on fire in Malé while a police station was torched in Noonu Atoll Holhudhoo Island.

Police have said they believe the arson attacks were connected to MDP’s protests, but the party denies the allegations.

A Sun Online journalist was also hit on the head with a battery thrown by a protester and a Raajje TV cameraman alleged police assaulted him during MDP’s protests. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has raised concern over both incidents.

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

Protests will not end until new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government is brought to an end, MDP has said, and has called on the public to display a yellow flag in their homes to show their support for the party and have urged islanders to come and join ongoing protests in Malé.

However, police have said they “no longer believe MDP’s protests to be peaceful” and said that the purpose of the protests seem to be “heckling police and obstructing police duty instead of demonstrating for early elections.”

In response, the MDP in a statement said police solicited gang members and government supporters to create unrest on Wednesday night in order to cast the party’s protests as violent.

Protesters remain gathered at the junction of Chaandhanee and Orchid streets at the time of press.

“Excessive Force”

The police used excessive force to disperse protests on Wednesday night, MDP has claimed in a statement. “Police in full riot gear have attacked unarmed protesters with batons and boots and pepper-sprayed protesters at close range. Furthermore, police are extremely verbally abusive towards journalists and protesters. Eye witnesses have said police used rubber bullets to disperse the protests last night resulting in severe injuries,” the party said.

Police allowed government supporters and gang members behind police lines to throw stones at protesters and set fire to police barricades in order to “create violence to disrupt protests,” the MDP alleges.

But police have denied allegations, claiming it was the protesters who threw pavement bricks, water bottles and batteries at the police.

“Five policemen were injured,” police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef said. “I would also like to note protesters had gathered a pile of bricks to throw at the police. They also set barricades on fire.”

When asked if the arson attacks were connected to MDP’s protests, Haneef said “we have suspicions as the MDP is constantly calling on the public to cause injury to the police.”

The police station on Holhudhoo Island was torched at 2:30 am, while Saeed’s car was torched at 4:00 am. All the furniture, three bicycles and motorcycles were damaged beyond repair in the police station while the car’s windshields, trunk and backseat were destroyed in the fire. A pavement brick and empty petrol can were found in the car, police said.

Reporters Attacked

Private television station Raajje TV’s cameraman Ahmed Shanoon suffered injury to his collarbone in a police attack, MDP claims.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy also said he was “saddened and concerned” by the injury caused to Sun Online reporter Murshid Abdul Hakeem. A battery thrown during the protest hit Hakeem on the head.

Two journalists were briefly detained on Monday evening. Raajje TV journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed said police rushed at and surrounded him as he attempted to obtain footage of police beating a protester.

Police then grabbed his neck, twisted his arm and threw him to the ground, Waheed said. Raajje TV has said police have targeted and assaulted the station’s journalists.

Further, DhiTV presenter Ahmed Ameeth was mobbed by protesters on Tuesday evening.

No journalists from Minivan News were injured covering the protest, despite a report published in local newspaper Haveeru. However a photographer from Minivan Daily – an unaffiliated publication – was reportedly hit by a police baton.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) in a statement today has appealed to the security forces “to allow broadcast media to operate with independence.”

The Maldivian Journalists Association (MJA) did not comment on the Monday arrests, but released a statement on Tuesday calling on journalists to avoid confrontation with the police by adhering to their code of ethics. However, the MJA did condemn the mobbing of the DhiTV presenter in a statement on Wednesday.

Heckling Police

A police statement said protesters had constantly tried to break through police barricades into areas where protesting is banned and said protesters were extremely verbally abusive towards the police.

“Although protesters claim to be calling for an early election, the protest has changed into one to heckle police and obstruct police duty,” the statement said, adding that police did not have a legal say on the issue of elections.

It also raised concern over the allegations of police brutality and denial of rights to detainees and protesters and called on the public to file complaints with the relevant human rights mechanisms instead of “accusing police of unproven allegations.”

Nine people were arrested on Wednesday, the police said.

MDP claims over 80 people have been arrested during the four day protest and 40 continue to remain in police custody.

U.S. Ambassador Patricia Butenis on Wednesday said she was “alarmed” by recent reports of police violence and said intimidation of protesters and attacks on journalists “threaten Maldivians’ freedom of expression and right to information and only contributes to instability.”

Amnesty International has previously condemned police’s “use of excessive force” in dismantling MDP protests.


Religious intolerance sees Maldives drop to 73rd in Press Freedom Index

The Maldives has fallen 21 places on Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s press freedom index between 2010 and 2011.

The country is now ranked 73, level with the Seychelles and below Sierra Leone but still well above many countries in both the region and the Middle East countries, including Qatar, Oman and the UAE.

The Maldives took a giant leap in 2009 to 51 following the introduction of multiparty democracy – in 2008 it had been ranked 104.

RSF has however recently expressed concern at the rising climate of religious intolerance in the Maldives and its impact on freedom of expression.

“A climate of religious intolerance prevailed in the Maldives, where media organisations were subjected to threats by the authorities and had to deal with an Islamic Affairs Ministry bent on imposing Sharia to the detriment of free expression,” RSF stated.

In November 2011 the organisation reacted to the Islamic Ministry’s order to block the website of controversial blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, stating that “the increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives’ young democracy”.

“Incidents involving media workers are rare but that is only because most of them prefer to censor themselves and stay away from subjects relating to Islam. The government should not give in to the fanatical minority but must do all it can to ensure the media are free to tackle any subjects they choose,” the organisation said.

Rasheed was subsequently arrested on the evening of December 14 for his involvement in a “silent protest” calling for religious tolerance, held on Human Rights Day. The protesters had been attacked and Rasheed hospitalised after being struck with a stone.

On his release without charge three weeks later, Rasheed expressed concern for his safety.

“The majority of Maldivians are not violent people. But I am concerned about a few psychotic elements who believe they will go to heaven if they kill me – people who don’t care if they go to jail for it. Those people I am afraid of, and I will not provoke the country in the future,” he told Minivan News.

In September 2011 the government published new ‘religious unity’ regulations enforcing parliament’s religious unity act of 1994, with a penalty of 2-5 years imprisonment for violation.

Under the regulations, the media is banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio deemed to “humiliate Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

More recently several journalists with the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) were beaten, threatened and tasered after protesters from the opposition and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) clashed outside the station. Both sides blamed each other for the attacks, while MNBC said it would no longer cover the ongoing protests on scene.

The government meanwhile claimed that its commitment to media freedom is “absolute and unwavering.”

“President Nasheed’s administration never has and never will do anything to undermine the independence, integrity or professionalism of the media,” said President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.

Zuhair’s comments followed allegations that Communications Minister Adhil Saleem had intimidated journalists by threatening to withdraw broadcasting licenses, which Zuhair claimed was “merely” a reaction to “certain TV news channels acting unprofessionally when airing footage of recent protests.”

Despite the fall, the Maldives was still ranked significantly higher than many other countries in the region.

Sri Lanka fell to 163, continuing a steady decline over the last decade (it was ranked 51 in 2002).

“The stranglehold of the Rajapakse clan [has] forced the last few opposition journalists to flee the country,” RSF said in a statement on the release of the 2011 Index.

“Any that stayed behind were regularly subjected to harassment and threats. Attacks were less common but impunity and official censorship of independent news sites put an end to pluralism and contributed more than ever to self-censorship by almost all media outlets.”

Bangladesh fared poorly (129) – “despite genuine media pluralism, the law allows the government to maintain excessive control over the media and the Internet” – while Nepal (109) showed modest improvement with a drop off in violence between the government and Maoist rebels.

India’s position fell (131) after the government unveiled the “Information Technology Rules 2011, which have dangerous implications for online freedom of expression. Foreign reporters saw their visa requests turned down or were pressured to provide positive coverage.”

Pakistan (151st) meanwhile remained the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the second year running.

Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland were ranked as having the greatest press freedom, while North Korea and Eritrea fared the worst.