Raajje TV seeking “international assistance” to investigate arson attack

Opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV is seeking international assistance to investigate the arson attack that destroyed its main office earlier this month – alleging concern at potential state involvement in the crime.

Police have so far confirmed that three individuals aged 18, 21, and 24 have been arrested over their alleged roles in fire bombing the private broadcaster, with investigations ongoing to identify other suspects involved.

A police media official declined to provide any more information on the investigation at time of press, beyond confirmation of the arrest of three suspects.

Six assailants were pictured committing the attack on CCTV.  The attackers also stabbed a security guard for the building.

“I don’t think we can expect police to solve this” Raajje TV Chairman

Raajje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin has questioned the efforts and commitment of law enforcement officials to solve the case, with no further information shared by police so far over the progress of the investigation.

“I don’t think we can expect police to solve this, I highly suspect they may be involved in this,” he said. “So we are seeking international help with our own investigation.”

Kamaaluddin declined to provide further information of the nature of the international assistance he was seeking at time of press.

He alleged that the attack on its offices and control room by masked figures that destroyed cameras, computer systems, as well as broadcasting and transmission equipment was “state-organised”.

The station has continued to allege police and government involvement in the arson attack, namely Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Adheeb has denied the allegations, which he described as “politically motivated, biased, baseless claims.”

The private broadcaster has also accused officers of purposefully failing to protect it after reporting threats made against the station and its staff ahead of the attack.

The Maldives Police Service has previously confirmed that it had been made aware of threats to Raajje TV ahead of the attack on its office

On October 9, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) issued a statement denying reports spread on social media that a suspect suspected injured in the arson attack on Raajje TV was being treated at a military hospital.

The MNDF statement said the military hospital treated three firemen who were injured while trying to control the blaze, rejecting allegations of treating potential suspects while criticising efforts to spread news relating to the attack without clarifying the matter first.

Meanwhile, recently released CCTV footage of the arson attack shows several of the six arsonists without masks, and implicates an additional six men in the arson attack.

The Maldives Police Service 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.

Global condemnation

Global NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arson attack and criticised what it called the Maldives Police Services’ failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.

“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 in a statement.

Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz had previously said the institution 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.

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) condemned the Raajje TV attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, calling for security forces to do more to protect media outlets and journalists.

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has meanwhile said it continues to call for those responsible for the attack to be brought to justice.

MMC member and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir today said he personally had not been made aware of any discrimination in the treatment  of certain broadcasters by police.

Zahir argued shortly after the that media should not cover live events and other developments in the country in a manner that would incite violence.

Zahir confirmed the MCC had published a statement before the attack criticising any media found to be trying to incite institutions or individuals to perform violent acts.

The statement specifically condemned any media found to be spreading calls for “terrorism and unrest”, something it said was not permitted even in nations regarded as leading in international standards of press freedom.

Zahir cited one notable example of media inciting unrest was by covering the statements of certain politicians who encouraged people to “violate the law” and go against state institutions.

Media violence

The attack is the second raid on the Raajje TV’s building by masked assailants. During the first attack – in August 2012 – assailants sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cables.

In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Raajje TV’s news head Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed Asward, leaving him with near-fatal head injuries.

The main office of Villa TV (VTV), a private broadcaster owned by Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader – and third-placed presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim – was attacked during anti-government protests on March 19, 2012.


Police reject claims that assault of Raajje TV journalist was politically motivated

Police have dismissed claims that an attack last month on a senior reporter for private broadcaster Raajje TV was politically motivated.

Journalist Ibrahim Waheed (Aswad) was left requiring major surgery abroad after he was beaten unconscious with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the artificial beach area of Male’ on February 23. He was reported at the time to be on his way to see two Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) journalists who were admitted to hospital after being attacked.

National media bodies have since raised concerns about a growing number of attacks on journalists. The same bodies have also claimed that reporters and other media figures needed to be more professional in order to ensure similar incidents and attacks can be better “contained and controlled” in future.

The police’s Head of Serious and Organised Crime Department Mohamed Daud declared at a press conference today that Aswad’s assault should not be viewed as a politically motivated attack, or an attempt to silence national media.

The claims were made as police announced that two suspects – an 18 year-old and 21 year-old – had been arrested in connection to what was believed to be a “planned” attack on Aswad.

Daud told local media that both suspects had criminal records and were believed to belong to “groups” based in the capital, though no further details were provided as police continue their investigations.

Speaking following the press conference, Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef today told Minivan News that with investigations continuing into Aswad’s attack, no motive had so far been established.

Following the arrest yesterday (March 12) of a second suspect in connection to the attack, Haneef added that the police investigation had so far found no evidence to imply a political motivation or that Aswad had been assaulted due to his role as a senior reporter for Raajje TV.

Targeted attack

Addressing Daud’s claims today, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said he would not speak contrary to the police view on the case. However, he maintained that Aswad had been specifically targeted by his attackers.

“We cannot investigate the matter ourselves, so I cannot go against what the police have said. However, what I know is that Aswad is a journalist and he was attacked whilst out on a motorbike,” he said. “It was a targeted attack.”

The attack on Aswad was the most serious incident of violence against a journalist in the Maldives since July 2012, when a group of alleged Islamic radicals slashed the throat of blogger Hilath Rasheed. Rasheed, who had been campaigning for religious tolerance, narrowly survived and has since fled the country.

Aside from the attack on Aswad, Hiriga continued to express concern at what he believed were a growing number of attacks on journalists of late, notably following recent anti-government demonstrations in the capital.

Just last week, a journalist for private media group Sun and a cameraman from broadcaster Villa Television (VTV) were attacked near to the residence of former President Mohamed Nasheed during coverage of his arrest.

Two Television Maldives (TVM) journalists were also attacked with an irritant while covering protests on Sosun Magu in Male’ on the same night Aswad was assaulted.

“Too many opinions”

Following Aswad’s attack, National media bodies including the MJA last month called on journalists to act more professionally to prevent future confrontations between themselves and the public.

Senior figures from both Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) said that journalists needed to act in a more professional manner in order to help prevent future confrontations between the public and reporters.

MBC Vice President Mohamed Shahyb told Minivan News that journalists have been targeted because “hatred has been building” towards them over a long period of time.

“Some journalists are not doing their work professionally in the Maldives.  The biggest problem is that they do not have much education or training [in journalism] and because of that they write anything,” Shahyb told Minivan News. “If the professional standard can be maintained, similar incidents can be contained and controlled.”

The MBC Vice President claimed that there are “too many opinions” leaking into news reports and that politicians need to start “pointing their fingers” at journalists who are not working in the correct manner.

“Social networking is also a big problem. Even if they work professionally, they then go onto social media sites and start expressing their own personal feelings, this is an issue,” Shahyb said.

MJA President, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, expressed similar concern, adding that journalists need to be more impartial with their reporting.

“We need to encourage media to be more objective. When we listen to the TV or radio we can’t tell the difference between an opinion piece or the actual news itself.”

Zahir has also requested the media to act more professionally and stop “spreading hatred”, while calling for police to give greater protection to journalists.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has also of late called on the media to “encourage stability, unity and harmony” in the country, adding that those responsible for the attacks will be brought to justice.