Attacks on five senior DhiTV senior officials and the stabbing of a Haveeru employee yesterday afternoon have sparked concern among media outlets that they could be subject to further attacks over their content.
DhiTV reported on its 2 o’clock news yesterday that alleged gang leader Ibrahim ‘Chika’ Nafiz had been released to house arrest. Soon after the broadcast, a gang reportedly stormed DhiTV studios.
Three hours later a Haveeru printery worker left in a critical condition after being stabbed outside the building.
Police have not yet confirmed whether the two cases are connected, but arrested ten people yesterday evening suspected of involvement in the attacks, including Chika.
“He was arrested in his home last night,” said a police spokesperson, “and today the court gave us five days for further investigation.”
Chika will remain under police custody until the court hearing. Police have meanwhile launched a special operation to investigate the attacks.
The spokesperson said he did not know if the attacks were intended to be a direct message to the media, but said “this really shows how the situation is here.”
‘We will fight with our pens’
President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) and Editor of Haveeru, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, said he believed the incidents were “direct attacks on the media.”
“The ruling party members are consistently blaming the media, and suddenly a gang leader leaves jail and attacks us,” Hiriga said, claiming there were political motives behind the attacks.
“The media is in a very bad situation, it is very vulnerable and young.”
Hiriga said he believed DhiTV and Haveeru were targeted because they are “the most vibrant media in this country” and the attacks were “certainly connected.”
He said the attackers had mentioned Haveeru when they entered the DhiTV building, and the police had been informed of this “but did not take enough precautions.”
Hiriga said he did “not want journalists to be afraid, but they are.”
He mentioned that some TV presenters were now “unwilling to appear on TV, and unwilling to report particular news items” because they were “very much afraid that their lives could be put in danger.”
“When law enforcement agencies fail, anything might happen at any time,” he said.
DhiTV CEO Yousuf Navaal said yesterday that “until we receive assurance [of our safety] that we can report this type of news, we will not cover it anymore.”
Hiriga however described Navaal’s approach as “not very professional”, especially since DhiTV had “asked Haveeru not to report on the issue either.
“The media should be one front and approach [these issues] as a collective, but this doesn’t happen,” Hiriga said, suggesting that Navaal was “reluctant” to report the story “because he has not been given enough confidence that the law is under control.”
Deputy Director General of TVM, Mohamed Asif, said the station had not taken extra security measures and were “hesitant and reluctant to report on these issues.”
Hiriga said media should not give in to intimidation: “We don’t have guns but we can fight with our pens!”
DhiTV reported yesterday that Chika had been released to house arrest by the Department for Penitentiary and Rehabilitaion Service (DPRS).
State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said the media had been reporting the wrong information, and “he was not released to house arrest”, but had in fact been taken to the DPRS for questioning two days ago.
Adil said the DPRS was investigating Chika and “he signed a paper saying he would cooperate and not leave his house.”
Spokesperson for the DPRS Moosa Rameez said Chika had been in the department’s rehabilitation programme for “six to seven months”, and referred Minivan News to DPRS Managing Director, Mohamed Rasheed.
However Rasheed said he did not want to comment on the issue.
A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Chika had been brought to Malé from Maafushi jail for an MRI scan. The source said it was common practice to bring prisoners to Malé when they require medical attention.
Police confirmed Chika had not been placed under house arrest, but would not say why he was in his house yesterday evening.