Raajje TV returns to air with donated equipment, after station’s firebombing

Hours after an arson attack that destroyed its offices, opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV began rebroadcasting with donated equipment at 12:40pm today, showing a report compiled with CCTV footage of the destruction of its offices.

“We have to start from zero. But Raajje TV will never die,” the station’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed told Minivan News.

The CCTV footage shows five masked men armed with machetes hacking at the locks on a reinforced steel grill. After destroying the lock and yanking open the grill, five men break through a second wooden door as a sixth man holds the building’s security guard hostage.

The footage then cuts to an indoor camera showing the arsonists dousing the station’s computers and desks and main lobby with petrol.

One of the men appears to threaten the security guard while the other attempts to calm him. The guard was later stabbed and hospitalised with critical injuries.

One of the masked attackers pours a trail of petrol out the door as the others retreat downstairs. He lights the trail, creating a fiery explosion that briefly engulfs him. He stumbles down the stairs, just as fireball inside in office explodes the door of the station off its hinges. Further footage shows a massive explosion of fire in the control room of the station.

The arson attack took place after the station requested police protection, following advance warnings it received the previous night of an impending attack. Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed to Minivan News this morning that police had received the letter requesting security, and said they “took action by patrolling the area.”

Asward, who in February 2013 was attacked by assailants with an iron bar that left him with near-fatal head injuries, said the station had restarted broadcasting from offices in a new building with equipment donated by the public, and had taken third party insurance for all of the station’s staff.

“I have been attacked. Our station’s reporters have been assaulted, beaten, arrested and threatened. Critical cables in our control room were cut. But we have always managed to overcome that” Asward told Minivan News.

The station restarted its broadcast with an interview of the Vice President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) Mohamed Shaheeb, followed by CCTV footage of the attack and an interview with former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed.

“We will not be able to cover live events because all of our equipment has been destroyed. We will not be able to bring in-depth coverage of the news as we have done in the past,” Asward said.

The station was destroyed on the same day as the Supreme Court’s much-anticipated ruling on whether to allow elections to go ahead.

Vice President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) Mohamed Shaheeb has harshly condemned the torching of Raajje TV.

“This is a cowardly act that violates vital democratic principles of freedom of expression and press. This commission calls for an investigation and prosecution of those involved,” he said.

The US Embassy has also expressed concern regarding the “upsurge in political violence.”

“The United States believes that a free and fair democratic political process depends on peaceful competition at the ballot box and an independent media available to all citizens. We urge authorities to quickly bring to justice those involved in these attacks and call for an end to all violence and political retaliation,” read a statement issued today.

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) condemned the arson attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, and criticised security forces to do more to protect journalism.

“Last night’s attack on Raajje TV Station, among the most viewed local channels by most Maldivians, was aimed to permanently shut down its service,” said the media body in statement.

“In view of that, MMC has continuously requested to investigate these cases and asked security providers to be more attentive to media security issues. MMC is consciously discussing all relevant stakeholders to ensure protection of journalists and media stations. Nevertheless, there has not been much progress on this issue,” read the statement.

MMC President Husham Mohamed said the regulatory body would be raising an “issue” with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) over today’s attack.

According to Raajje TV the station had an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media. It reached India and Sri Lanka, and is also streamed online.

The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants. In the first attack, in August 2012, the attackers sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cabling.

CCTV footage of the attack on Raajje TV: