Foreign ministry, US embassy, international organisations condemn attack on Minivan News

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US embassy in Colombo, and international press freedom organisations have issued statements condemning the attack on the Minivan News office.

A machete knife was buried in the door of the Minivan News building on Thursday afternoon (September 25) after a known gangster removed the CCTV security camera outside the premises.

Expressing “deep concern” with the increasing intimidation and threats faced by journalists, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon “noted that the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

“Media freedom and freedom expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Maldives and the human rights instruments that the Maldives is party to,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“At the ongoing Human Rights Council Session in Geneva the Maldives co-sponsored the resolution calling for the safety of journalist.”

The US embassy also expressed concern “about the recent attacks on media and political offices in Malé as well as continuing threats to media personnel.”

“Peaceful freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right, and we strongly condemn these acts. The embassy notes the prompt Maldivian Police Service action to launch an investigation, urges the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators, and calls for an end to all intimidation and violence,” the US embassy stated.

Press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile noted that the attack came after an investigative report – commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network – on the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan was made public.

“The fact that [Thursday’s] attack on Minivan came three days after the report’s publication is not seen as a coincidence,” RSF stated.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a strong possibility.

“Reporters Without Borders condemns this latest attack and calls on the authorities to provide Minivan’s journalists with protection, especially as this is not the first time the website and its staff have been targeted,” the statement read.

Rilwan remains missing after 50 days and is believed to have been abducted.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation and expressed concern with declining safety for journalists in the Maldives.

“This attack is clearly intended to intimidate an independent news organisation for its editorial line,” said IFJ Asia Pacific Deputy Director Jane Worthington.

“It’s a lame and condemnable attempt that the Maldives government should investigate thoroughly to ensure the perpetrators are punished as soon as possible.”

The IFJs local affiliate, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), also put out a press release condemning the attack.

“Minivan News is an established and active news organisation, and this attack is a clear attempt to threaten and intimidate journalists in the Maldives. MJA calls upon the authorities to investigate this incident with utmost urgency,” MJA said.

The MJA noted that institutions and mechanisms were in place to investigate complaints regarding the media, noting that “differences [of opinion] with regard to content published by news organisations do not warrant vandalism and intimidation.”

“While establishing an environment where journalists could work freely is a responsibility for all, we call on the relevant authorities of the state to do everything necessary to ensure [press freedom],” the MJA said.

After rising to 51st in 2009, the Maldives dropped to 108th place to pre-2008 levels in the RSF Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

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.


Minivan News office attacked with machete, CCTV camera destroyed

A machete knife was lodged into the door of the Minivan News building this afternoon shortly after a renowned gangster removed a CCTV camera from outside the building.

An eyewitness saw two men with long hair flee on a motorbike after leaving the knife on the door at around 2:25pm, immediately after the man took down the security camera.

The eyewitness heard the men pound the door with the knife. The rusty machete knife was left in the door of a ground floor apartment of the building.

One Minivan News member has received a threat by SMS in the hours since the attack.

“You will be killed or disappeared next, be careful,” read the message.

Minivan News has lodged the incident and shared footage with police as well as making an official request for protection for its staff and premises.

The man seen attacking the office – wearing a white T-shirt – is clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage as he walks past the door, reaches up and grabs the camera off its perch.

The incident comes shortly after the publication of an investigative report – commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) – into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The investigation – conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – implicated radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a “strong possibility.”

The abductions in June followed local media reports of a meeting between Islamic Minister Shaheem and youth groups who expressed concern over insults to Islam online and the promotion of homosexuality.

The man seen attacking Minivan News today appeared to have been part of the group that met both the Islamic minister and Home Minister Umar Naseer prior to the abductions.

“Minivan News is extremely concerned at this blatant attempt to intimidate our staff and damage our premises,” said a spokesman for Minivan News.

“Fortunately, the individual guilty of this attack has clearly been caught on CCTV and so we expect police will have little difficulty in bringing him to justice.”