Journalists facing danger, says human rights watchdog

Journalists in the Maldives face many challenges, dangers, and loss of freedom due to their role or expression of views, the state human rights watchdog has said.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) observed that the Maldives fell four ranks in the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2015 to 112th place.

“The commission has previously noted that Maldivian journalists face death threats and intimidation and that the Maldivian state has to work to establish an environment where journalists can operate freely,” the commission said in a statement issued today on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

Journalists should be able to report information on issues of concern “truthfully, sincerely, and without fear”.

The commission urged the media to act responsibly and respect basic rights and societal norms in providing information.

Journalists should take special care when reporting on issues involving persons with special needs, children, and vulnerable groups, the commission advised.

The commission called on all state institutions to ensure a safe environment for reporting and provide information with ease.

In a tweet with the World Press Day hashtag, Vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel meanwhile said today that “we must applaud the role of journalists & free press in establishing a fair democratic society.”

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MP Mahloof, Raajje TV journalists among nine arrested at opposition protest

MP Ahmed Mahloof and opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV journalist Mohamed Wisam and cameraman Adam Zareer are among nine arrested from last night’s opposition protest march.

A police media official told Minivan News today that the former ruling party MP, two journalists and six others were arrested for “obstructing police duties and disobeying police orders.”

The Criminal Court this morning extended the remand detention of the Galolhu South MP and the two journalists to five days.

While one protester was released from police custody, the court extended the remand detention of two protesters to seven days and three protesters to five days.

Photos of Specialist Operations (SO) police officers manhandling the Mahloof have been widely circulated on social media. Journalists at the scene reported that the MP’s shirt was ripped open during the arrest near the fish market.

Photo from Ranreendhoo Maldives
Photo from Ranreendhoo Maldives

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile condemned Mahloof’s arrest, claiming he was “targeted” by the police and due to his outspoken criticism of the government following his expulsion from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The ruling party’s disciplinary committee expelled Mahloof on February 25 for allegedly defaming President Yameen and bringing the government into disrepute with false statements in the media.

In a statement released today, the MDP claimed Mahloof was arrested “brutally” and condemned police for “obstructing the protest in violation of the Constitution”.

Police used obscene language while arresting the MP, the statement alleged.

The opposition party said riot police officers pepper MDP MP Ali Nizar as well as other protesters in the eye and confiscated the protest’s “sound pickup” and loudspeakers.

Raajje TV has meanwhile condemned the arrests of the two journalists, describing the arrests as an “obstruction of rights guaranteed under the constitution, including the rights to freedom of information and freedom of press.”

A Channel One journalist was also arrested the previous night for allegedly obstructing police duties. The Criminal Court extended his remand detention to 10 days.

Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of its staff, Raajje TV noted that it was “yet to receive any justice with regards to previous attacks targeted to our station and journalists.”

Raajje TV journalist Wisam interviewing MP Mahloof
Raajje TV journalist Wisam interviewing MP Mahloof

The Maldives Police Service also released a statement alleging that protesters assaulted several police officers last night after breaking through barricades near the Republic Square.

Protests are banned in the ‘green zone’ area encompassing the Republic Square as well as police and military headquarters.

Protesters also smashed the windows of a police vehicle last night, the statement added. Police officers on the vehicle were attempting to stop protesters from using loudspeakers after 11:00pm.

Invoking powers granted by Article 41 of the Freedom of Assembly Act, police issued a statement earlier this week ordering protest organisers not to use loudspeakers or megaphones after 11:00pm and to end the protest at 12:00am.

Moreover, police warned protesters against repeatedly gathering in one location or street.

 

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Police dismiss reporters’ terror claim against Criminal Court

The Maldives Police Services has rejected a complaint filed by three journalists alleging the Criminal Court had abducted them inside the Justice Building on Friday night (March 13).

The journalists from CNM, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Avas said court clerks refused repeated requests to let them out of the building to inform their readers of the outcome of a 9:15pm hearing in former President Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

All trial observers and journalists were held for nearly two hours inside the building after the initial hearing, as judges deliberated on a verdict.  They were not allowed to use their phones or communicate with the reporters gathered outside.

Journalists and observers had not previously been informed a verdict would be delivered on the same night.

When Mohamed Afsal, Misbah Abbas and Muizz Ibrahim reiterated requests to be allowed to leave the courthouse, court officials refused to allow them outside or inside the courtroom for the verdict later. The three were held in the waiting area until the verdict was delivered.

The journalists accused the Criminal Court of kidnapping and terrorism.

However, police dismissed the case stating they do not have the jurisdiction to investigate the case, and recommended the complaint be filed at the Judicial Services Commission instead.

The Criminal Court had previously barred opposition aligned Rajje TV journalists from attending court proceedings, claiming a journalist from the private broadcaster had threatened Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf, one of the three judges who presided over Nasheed’s trial.

The station has denied the court’s claims.

 

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MDN urges the police to speed up investigations of death threats against journalists

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has urged the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to speed up its investigations into the many death threats made to journalists and to ensure their adequate protection.

In a press statement released on the occasion of UNESCO’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, MDN also expressed its concern over the prevalence of aggressive threats made against journalists.

“Journalists in Maldives continue to receive death threats and other violent messages, some in the public domain through social media. They have been targeted with grave physical harm. It is appalling that these incidents should go without investigation and apprehension of perpetrators,” read the MDN statement.

MDN also voiced their concern over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan who has been missing for 87 days as of today (November 2).

“There has been no progress in finding Rilwan, and allegations of impunity have risen with every passing day,” said MDN.

Rilwan’s disappearance is the first such instance of its kind in the Maldives, although near fatal attacks were carried out on the blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 and the Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in 2013.

Adopted by a resolution in the UN General Assembly last year, the day is used to urge member states to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity.

November 2 was chosen to commemorate to two French journalists killed in Mali on 2 November 2013. UNESCO reports that over 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade, with 2012 and 2013 representing the deadliest years.

Following Rilwan’s disappearance in August, journalists from across the Maldives joined to declare that his abduction was a threat to all, and calling for an end to persistent intimidation faced by the press.

“As intimidation of press grows, and attacks against journalists, equipment, and buildings continue, we are extremely concerned over the delays in bringing to justice those who commit these acts,” read the landmark statement.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon also expressed concern regarding acts of intimidation and reprisals to journalists in general, noting that “freedom of media facilities a greater degree of interconnectedness and awareness in the community, and is the cornerstone of any democratic society”.

Last week, the People’s Majilis threw out a 5055 strong petition urging the parliament’s National Security Committee to pressure the Maldives Police Services to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.

Rilwan’s family also lodged a formal complaint with the Police Integrity Commission accusing the police of negligence in the investigation into the 28-year-old’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, a media official from MPS told Minivan News today that that investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance is going ahead speedily but reported no new updates to the investigation

The media official also mentioned that police security was provided for two journalists after two convicts who were serving life sentences for murder escaped the Maafushi high security  prison in October.

A total of four men have been arrested over Rilwan’s disappearance, although only one man remains in custody at present.

Home Minister Umar Naseer said he believed Rilwan to be alive and promised to return him safe to his family. He has also acknowledged the involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Last month, MDN released the findings of a private investigation, which discounted theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, concluding that the disappearance was most likely an abduction by radicalised gangs.

On September 25, a named suspect in the MDN private investigation broke a CCTV outside Minivan News building before two men on motorbikes lodged a machete to the door.

Police arrested the renowned gangster who was caught on footage when he broke the camera only to be released the next day by the Criminal Court demanding the man to cooperate with the investigation and not to cause any further disturbances.

MPS also provided Minivan News with static security outside the building after the attack with one Minivan News journalist receiving death threats in the hours following the attack.

Recently, Amnesty International demanded police intensify their efforts to find those responsible for the numerous death threats and violent attacks against journalists.

Numerous international organisations have criticised the slow progress in the investigation of the case including Reporters without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists.

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EU concerned at gang violence and religious intolerance in Maldives

The EU delegation in Colombo and EU member states have noted concern at “mounting gang violence and signs of increasing religious intolerance” in the Maldives.

“The EU Heads of Mission, the Ambassador of Norway and the Charge d’Affaires a.i. of Switzerland are very concerned about the recent reports of attacks, intimidation and death threats faced by journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners and representatives of civil,” read a statement released today.

The offices of Minivan News were attacked last week, as were those of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and the homes of a number of MPs. Journalists have continued to receive death threats, warning against reporting on such activities.

The EU representatives, as well as the Embassies of Norway and Switzerland, today said that these instances were “contributing to a climate of growing fear in the Maldives and reducing the space for public discussion.”

It was also suggested that the ongoing legal action initiated by the Supreme Court against the Human Rights Commission of Maldives “risks undermining the independence of the HRCM, a key democratic institution”.

The Supreme Court’s suo moto case relates to the publication of a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month for its Universal Periodic Review on grounds that the compilation of and the content of the report was against procedures, and contained false information.

“In the interests of both the Maldives and the many visitors to the country, we call upon the Maldivian authorities to create a safe and enabling environment in which citizens and institutions can operate freely in full respect of their constitutional rights.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird yesterday expressed concern at the “deterioration” of the human rights situation in the Maldives while the US and UK have also noted their own concerns this month.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has also condemned the recent attacks, reiterating the government’s commitment to an “environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

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MMPRC to host UK journalists in October

The Maldives Media and Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) will host a familiarisation tour for UK journalists between October 10 and 15.

“The main objective of this FAM trip coordinated by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation in collaboration with McCluskey International (official PR representative Maldives in UK) is to allow journalists from a vast range of media to experience the Maldives tourism product and in line generate positive publicity to the destination,” read an MMPRC press release.

The corporation also announced earlier this month that it was launching a global advertising campaign with the BBC, running throughout September and October, which would target regional markets in Europe, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Middle East, America and North Africa.

Next month, UK journalists from four five magazines will be hosted in Four Seasons KudaHuraa, Anantarah Kihavah, and Traders Hotel in Malé.

Visitors from the UK to the Maldives currently account for 7.4 percent of market share, making it the third largest source market behind China and Germany.

During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng earlier this week, President Abdulla Yameen said that he hoped to increase Chinese tourists – who already make up 30 percent of all arrivals – three fold over the next four years.

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15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.

“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.

Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.

A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said

Serious threats

Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.

“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.

Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.

Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.

“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.

“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.

Diversion

Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.

“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.

MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister

“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.

Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.

History of threats

threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.

The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not  report threats to authorities.

In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.

DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.

In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.

On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.

The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.

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Journalists important for consolidating democracy: Parliament Speaker Shahid

Journalists play an important role in consolidating democracy in the Maldives, said Parliament Speaker MP Abdulla Shahid.

Shahid made the remarks while speaking at the official inauguration of Channel News Maldives (CNM) held last night (June 3) at Trader’s Hotel in Male’.

CNM Chairman Mohamed Ali Janah, senior dignitaries of the state, reporters from various media outlets, as well as members of the Maldives Media Council and Maldives Broadcasting Corporation also attended the launch ceremony.

CNM was registered as a newspaper on 3 May 2011 at the former Department of Information.

“The saddest thing that can happen is for the legislative body to try to tie down the journalists,” said Shahid.

Shahid emphasised that the country needs journalism that adheres to proper ethical standards and conduct. He also stated that journalists must remember they have to present themselves to the public daily and the public will not accept false information.

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Media needs to introduce “peace journalism”: MP Nasheed

Former Legal Reform Minister MP Mohamed Nasheed has recommended Maldives-based journalists introduce “peace reporting” in order to stop violence against local media.

Nasheed claimed that the Maldives media is exploited by politicians to a great extent and that reporters needed to start looking at the similarities between politicians as opposed to their differences, the Sun Online news agency reported.

The Kulhudhuffushi-south MP told local media that a new kind of “peace journalism” should be introduced into the system as the level of rivalry, anger and hatred that exists in the Maldives is too much for people to endure.

“One thing journalists can do is introduce peace journalism, promote peace journalism.

“Instead of making a big deal out of the differences between two people, and spreading information about those differences in the society – they could present the similarities. We should go for peaceful journalism,” Nasheed was quoted as saying in local media.

Nasheed claimed that political leaders prepare quotations in certain ways in order to make the headlines and therefore exploit journalists.

“There is a limit even to political influence. There is a limit to how much journalists can be exploited to obtain political advantages.

“If all journalists unite and establish certain policies, politicians will have no choice but to follow those policies,” Nasheed told Sun Online.

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