Raajje TV sue police over decision to “not cooperate” with station

Local TV station Raajje TV has announced that it will file a lawsuit against the Maldives Police Service (MPS) following their decision to not to cooperate with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned TV station.

In a statement the station claimed that the actions of the police narrowed the constitutional right to freedom of expression and the station’s freedom to practice journalism, and said that the actions of the police were depriving its reporters of their constitutional rights.

The case was filed in the Civil Court, with a request for the court to issue an order to the police to resume their support and cooperation with the TV station, and to hold that its withdrawal was illegitimate.

Civil Court has also confirmed that they have received the case.

Speaking to local media, Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yaamin said that police were discriminating against the station in collusion with other media outlets by inviting them to police press conferences and providing information.

“Due to these reasons we filed a lawsuit to invalidate the police decision. Because of it, our journalists do not get protection from them anymore,” he said.

Raajje TV has also accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

A statement from Raajje TV on July 10 read: “Raajje TV journalists have been forced to live in fear as they have increasingly become targets of attacks by the national security forces, particularly the police service. The station also believes that these attacks and harassment has been the source of emotional distress and psychological damage to all Raajje TV employees.”

Last week police announced that they had stopped cooperating with Raajje TV, claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about police which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

In a press statement released today, MPS stated that the decision was reached after the station had “deliberately and continuously broadcast false and baseless content with the intention to incite hatred” towards the institution.

“Also, Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit in with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries,” read the statement.

Controversial video

The decision from the police comes just a day after Raajje TV broadcasted CCTV video footage of some police officers, who the station alleged were “caught on video” while they were stealing petrol from a motorbike parked in a small road in Male’.

However police denied the allegations and condemned Raajje TV for spreading “false and untrue” information about them.

Superintendent of Police Abdulla Navaz in a press briefing dismissed the claims and said that the video footage was showing the police carrying out their legal duty.

Raajje TV had twisted the details and information in their news report, which Navaz said showed police confiscating a five litre container of petrol from the road.

He also stated that the container was confiscated after police on patrol duty noticed that someone had connected a pipe to steal petrol from a parked motorbike in the road.

“It was decided that we would find the owner of the motor bike and hand over the things that were confiscated. The petrol container is also kept under police observation as evidence,” he said.

Navaz showed the media documents filed during the confiscation.

In the press briefing he expressed concerns over Raajje TV’s “irresponsible” actions and said that the police would file complaints with concerned authorities.

Demand for apology

Following the broadcast of the video, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to the TV station stating that it had broadcast the content without checking its authenticity and was therefore ordered to apologise for their actions.

The MBC in the letter stated that following the broadcast of the video, police had denied the allegation and released details of the incident, but said the station had failed to inform the public of their error.

Raajje TV’s Deputy CEO Yaamin responded to the letter stating that the station had no intention of undermining the reputation of the police.

He also stated that the station had broadcast the entire recording of the police press briefing held to deny the allegations, giving them the opportunity to defend themselves from the allegations.

He also stated that police were very unresponsive to the queries of reporters from the station.

“They don’t give a proper response when we call to get a comment for a news piece. Even today, when our reporters went to cover the events where the murdered police officer was brought in Male, they sent us away saying that they cannot give us protection,” he said.

“Enemy of the state”

Following the murder of Lance Corporal Ahmed Haleem two days before, the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan alleged that that the TV station was responsible along with opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for attacks on police.

In a joint press conference held on the same day, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said that Raajje TV had spread “baseless allegations” about police brutality and the police role in the controversial change of government on February 7, thereby inciting and encouraging violence against the police and their families.

Jameel described MDP and Raajje TV as “enemies of the state,” while Riyaz said former President Mohamed Nasheed and senior MDP officials were behind the planning of psychological and physical attacks on the police.

“I note that former President Mohamed Nasheed is behind the planning of the attacks and damage caused to police property and repeated physical attacks on police officers,” Riyaz said.

Claiming Raajje TV’s reporting was “not responsible journalism,” Riyaz said that the station had spread baseless allegations regarding police brutality towards protesters and police role in the controversial change of government.

“Raajje TV has repeatedly attempted to defame and raise questions over police professionalism by broadcasting baseless allegations to create distrust towards the police,” he added.

He went on to refute the TV station’s CCTV video footage that suggested police had stolen fuel from parked motor cycles, claiming Raajje TV was attempting to falsely cast the entire police force as “brutal” and as “thieves.”

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters of the country and is the only opposition-aligned TV station the country. The TV station has come under pressure and criticism from the government and political parties aligned to government for its opposition coverage.

The TV station first went on air as “Future TV” in 2008, but started broadcasting as “Raajje TV” in 2011. Its audience increased dramatically following the takeover of the state broadcaster by the police and military on February 7.


President Waheed forms commission to investigate transfer of power

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has formed a “Commission of National Inquiry” to investigate the events that unfolded in the Maldives during the period from 14 January to 8 February.

The inquiry was created by presidential decree as per the article 223 clause (d) of the constitution.

The President’s Office stated that the commission was established to make “an independent impartial investigation” into the change of power and surrounding protests.

President Waheed nominated three members to the commission: former minister of defence and national security during President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s administration Ismail Shafeeu, Gayoom’s former minister of tourism and the first president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Ahmed Mujuthaba, and Dr Ibrahim Yasir.

Shafeeu was nominated to chair the commission. Mujuthaba is also chairing the cross-party talks concerning Dr Waheed’s “Roadmap for a Possible Way Forward”, which the MDP has boycotted due to the involvement of un-elected parties without a democratic mandate.

President Waheed has also requested Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz oversee the legality of the inquiries and investigations as per the article 223 (d) of the constitution.

The commission has been given the mandate to compile a full report on the outcome of the investigation and submit it the President, the Prosecutor General and the Attorney General – Gayoom’s former lawyer, Azima Shukoor.

Dr Waheed’s Press Secretary Musood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson for International Affairs, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, questioned the impartiality of the commission.

“How can [the government] carry out an impartial investigation, when they themselves were involved in the actions during that time period?” he asked.

“This is exactly the same type of commission that was formed during Gayoom’s regime to look into the events that unfolded in Maafushi Jail in 2003, including the custodial death of Evan Naseem,” Ghafoor said.

“Look what happened to the report they published then – people questioned it, and part of it was censored. We are calling for a third party consisting of international experts  to come and  into look into the matter. We absolutely do not believe that this commission will be impartial in investigating the matter.”

The legality and legitimacy of the transfer of presidential power in the Maldives should be determined by the independent impartial investigation, and the make-up and mandate of the investigation must to be agreeable to all responsible political parties, the MDP has said, acknowledging the European Union (EU)’s statement on the current situation of Maldives.

The investigation “must include international experts and should deliver accountability for all human rights violations,” MDP’s statement read.

Police and protesters attack the military base on February 7:

Police, MNDF and opposition protesters break into the state broadcaster on February 7:

A police crackdown on MDP demonstrators and supporters followed on February 8:


“Overdue” national drug survey active across Maldives

The first “scientifically robust national survey” of drug use in the Maldives is kicking off with training for employees and volunteers this week. The survey was contracted by national research organisation Inova Pvt Ltd, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family.

The survey examines the drug use habits of Maldivians ages 15 to 64, and is a contributing factor of the program, “Strengthening the National response to Combat Drug Abuse in the Maldives”, which began in July under the remit of the United Nations (UN) and the Maldivian government.

United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), the All Indian Institute and the European Union are providing funding and expertise, and 13 local NGOs are assisting the project, particularly within island communities.

International Project Coordinator for UNODC, Sarah Waller, said the survey would add structure to the Maldivian government’s sparse drug policy.

“The survey should generate a better understanding of where treatment gaps in the community are, in order for the government and civil society to target appropriate evidence-based treatment and interventions in their drug-treatment planning. At the moment, it’s a bit of a guess how services are set up. This will enable to the government to provide a much more targeted response to the issue.”

The survey is being conducted according to two methods.

On islands, ‘enumerators’ employed by Inova will gather and process data by conducting household interviews.

Waller said many enumerators come from the recovering community, and staff from Journey are providing specific training to those who have little to no experience in drug use and abuse.

“Many have likely never interacted in the past with drug users. The first few days of training are about building awareness and sensitisation around drug users, around the Maldives’ treatment systems, and around the patterns and trends of drug abuse here,” Waller said.

Another method will be applied on Male’. Volunteer ‘respondents’ will serve as the middle man, gathering survey participants from Male’s more dense and urban community and connecting with them enumerators.

“The methodology for Male’ is quite different from what is given out on the islands,” said Waller. “The method, Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS), is more appropriate to the community on Male’. This approach identifies initial seeds in the community, and those seeds generate additional seeds. So you’re really generating responses through one initial seed.”

Respondents will be rewarded with coupons according to their efforts gathering participants. Waller emphasised that the compensation had been carefully designed to protect the survey’s validity.

“The evidence base suggests that incentivizing the driving of seeds to identify more individauls to take part in the study can enable a much more representative and accurate sample. When it comes to incentivizing recovering or abusive populations, there are ethics that need to be considered regarding that incentive. In particular with doing research amongs drug users, there have to be ethics whereby monetary incentives aren’t sufficient enough to encourage the workers to use them on drugs.”

Minivan News spoke to Journey volunteer member Imlaaq Shareef about the survey’s methods.

“It’s an advanced form of snowballing. First, the respondents will bring one or two and give a reward, maybe three coupons. Then they’ll bring another three addicts, and get a reward for that. So from one respondent the team will get more and more samples,” said Shareef.

When asked if the survey was likely to be accurate, Shareef doubted that all participants would initially be honest.

“But in the survey there are a lot of recovering addicts who are volunteering, and they’ll be able to identify the community here,” Shareef observed. “This is a small place, so, even the person who is doing drugs the most secretively somehow some people will know about it. So we can reach for them. I think by this survey, we can get a good estimate.”

In Shareef’s opinion, the survey is overdue.

“It should have been done earlier. Day by day, the number of IV users is getting high, and drug users are getting high, the number of sex workers are increasing. And in most cases, sex workers are addicts because it’s the easiest way for a girl addict to get money to buy her drugs. There is no choice for these girls, and most do not enjoy it,” said Shareef.

In addition to having an information shortage, the Maldives is struggling to plug the gaps between drug rehabilitation and law enforcement.

“There are very few rehabilitation service providers here,” said Shareef. “The problem is, once people get out of rehab they have to sign up for community service and stay here for a year or so. If they relapse during that period, it’s a big case. They might end up in court or jail. So most people are afraid of taking a treatment, because of the loopholes in the law.”

Shareef complained that a drug reform bill has been stalled in Parliament.

“Even very recently, at Journey, we put out a petition that was signed by nearly 8,000 people and sent it to the Majlis to pass the drug bill. But they don’t give a damn about it. They are just concerned about the Rf20,000 they are getting. I wonder what kind of risk they are taking,” said Shareef.

Parliament accepted the bill in March 2010 and sent the legislation to committee for further review.

Shareef said the bill would significantly improve drug addicts’ recovery process.

“A user should never end up in jail. It has been scientifically proven that addiction is a chronic brain disease. So why should they end up in jail? It’s a big problem,” Shareef said.

Waller said the survey could provide a base line for developing a sufficient drug management infrastructure.

“The data can assist government in how and where to apply the information, and what communities need in terms of service. There is certainly an affinity between the two,” she said.

The project’s final report is due for release in February 2012.


President reinstates cabinet, awaits parliament’s consent

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has reinstated his cabinet ministers in a signing ceremony before Chief Judge of the Civil Court, Ali Sameer, following their mass resignation on June 29, in protest against what they claimed were the “scorched-earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

The only cabinet reshuffle concerned Mahmoud Razee, former Minister for Transport, Civil Aviation and Communications, who was moved to the post of Minister of Economic Development. His former portfolio remains open.

“Cabinet decided to stick together on the issue and resign, to show they are not hell bent on the salaries and niceties of their positions and to prove they want to do good work for the country,” Nasheed claimed.

Following the reinstatement of his ministers, President Nasheed denied the week-long resignation was a publicity stunt for political gain.

“We had to make everyone aware of the gravity of the situation,” he said. “Cabinet members have been complaining about corruption in parliament for some while, [particularly] vote buying.”

“We were last week able to investigate the matter, and I expect police to pass the findings of the investigation to the Prosecutor General’s Office within the next 10 days,” he added.

The ‘new’ cabinet now requires parliamentary consent before resuming office. The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed the government had been delaying the reinstatement until it received signs of cooperation from the main opposition party.

Zuhair acknowledged the strategy was “risky”, an observation confirmed by DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, who claimed “there are definitely ministers that the DRP will not approve, and will have to leave the cabinet.”

Zuhair however noted that the wording of the procceedure according to the Constitution was different to the appointment of the heads of independent commissions.

“Parliament is only required to ‘consent or not to consent’ to the [whole] cabinet,” he explained. “Even if the opposition is factionalised, if we get 7-8 MPs on our side the motion will be carried.”

President Nasheed has met opposition party leaders alone in a meeting on Monday evening mediated by US Ambassador Patricia Butenis, including leader of the majority opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

President Nasheed today said that while Thasmeen had not explicitly agreed to cooperate in the meeting, “individual DRP MPs have called me, and said they do not wish the government and parliament to remain deadlocked.”

He said the MPs had claimed they did not wish the entire institution of parliament “to be affected by the actions of individual MPs.”

Foreign embassies and international agencies have been nervously eyeing the seemingly erratic behaviour of the country’s administration, fearing a step backward following its democratic transition.

Yesterday Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also arrived in the country, in a surprise visit on the invitation of President Nasheed to help resolve the political deadlock. He has already met with Thasmeen and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, at his residence Maafannu Aliwaage.

Thasmeen did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Photo: Umair Badeeu