Journalist Asward condemns 18 month wait for justice after near-fatal attack

Raajje TV Journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed has condemned delays in prosecuting two men suspected of critically injuring him in a near-fatal attack in February 2013.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in May 2013 pressed charges against Ahmed Vishan, 22 years, and Hassan Raihan, 19 years, for assault under Article 128 of the Penal Code.

If found guilty, the two face a jail term or banishment between six months and five years, or a fine between MVR100 and MVR5000.

“Each day of delay is one more day without justice,” Asward told Minivan News today.

The Criminal Court held a hearing this morning in which a second anonymous witness said the suspects “looked very similar” to the two men they had seen fleeing the crime scene. However, the witness repeatedly said they could not be absolutely certain if the suspects were indeed the attackers.

Asward has blamed the witnesses uncertainty on the long trial process.

“Delays affect memory, making it difficult for witnesses to identify suspects. It also allows the attackers to tamper with evidence,” he said.

“It’s quite possible that the case will conclude saying that I beat myself up. It’s been 18 months since the attack. The courts must speed up the process,” he continued.

Noting the two suspects have been kept in pretrial detention since March 2013, Asward said delays in justice also violate rights of the two suspects.

The broadcast journalist also said the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Criminal Court have repeatedly failed to inform him of dates for court hearings.

“I found out today because our court reporter saw the case on the court schedule. This failure to inform me shows they are not particularly interested in completing the case,” he said.

The witness told the Criminal Court today they saw a man holding an iron bar getting on the back of an Air Blade motorcycle on the night of the attack. The witness said they did not see the actual attack.

On December 16, the first witness had also said told the Criminal Court they are unsure of the identities of the attackers, but also said the two suspects look very similar.

The anonymous witness said they saw a man with a three-foot long iron bar knock Asward down to the ground with a blow to the face. Afterwards the attacker hit Asward a few more times while he was on the ground.

The witness said Vishan “looked very similar” to the man who had attacked Asward.

Only the man on the back of the motorbike attacked Asward, the witness said.

The Maldives Police Services have said the attack appears to be premeditated, and former Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz at the time described the attack as a murder attempt.

Head of Serious and Organised Crime Department Mohamed Daud revealed that both suspects had criminal records and belonged to “groups” or gangs in the capital.

Daud claimed at the time that the attack was not thought to be politically motivated.

The attack left Asward unconscious, and he was transferred to a hospital in Sri Lanka for treatment, where he had to undergo major surgery to correct a maxillary fracture (broken jawbone). The beating has also affected Asward’s eyesight.


MJA expresses concern over alleged media boycotts

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has expressed concern over boycotts of certain media outlets by state institutions, political parties and other entities.

In a press release issued yesterday, the MJA stated it had received multiple complaints from media personnel regarding the issue. One such complaint alleged that private broadcaster RaajjeTV had been given exclusive access to interviews with the MDP following former President Nasheed’s recent trip abroad.

The MJA also highlighted the President’s Office’s apparent refusal to cooperate with private broadcaster Raajje TV.  The organisation has claimed that these alleged media boycotts, which are perceived as being sympathetic to opposing political views, were becoming alarmingly common in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News, MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said that although the boycott issue had been present from the time multi-party politics was established in the Maldives, the problem had become a growing concern of late.

“At a time when media itself is so polarized and prone to political rivalry, we are concerned that political actors are finding it harder to accept media reports which are not aligned with their own personal opinions. This leads state institutions or parties to allow access only to selected media, in effect denying other media the opportunity to fulfill their journalistic tasks,” he said.

Hiriga stressed that owing to a lack of resources, media outlets may not be able to attend every event they are invited to, adding that state institutions and political parties must however remain equally accessible to all media.

He emphasized the importance of not boycotting any media outlet based on their editorial policies or perceptions of political leaning, while at the same time noting the importance of the media’s objectivity in its reporting of news.

The MJA also stated that a boycott of any media institution would be neither encouraged nor accepted by the association.  The statement also called for political actors and the general public to lodge complaints with the relevant media authorities should they have complaints concerning standards of journalism.

In response to the MJA press statement, MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor stated that the party held no such policies to boycott media outlets. He went on to say that the party’s events were open to all media and that he felt some outlets opted to not attend them intentionally.

President’s Office Spokesperson, Abbas Adil Riza, Media Secretary Masood Imad and the Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz were not responding to calls at the time of press.

Last month, state officials accused Raajje TV of acting irresponsibly with its reporting by spreading what it called “baseless” allegations about the conduct of officers and inciting violence.

Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed previously named RaajjeTV as ‘enemies of state’ in a press conference held on July24, the same day on which the Maldives Police Service released a press statement stating its refusal to cooperate with or provide protection to the same channel.

Meanwhile, Raajje TV last month continued to accuse police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters.

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 have been the source of emotional distress and psychological damage to all Raajje TV employees.”


Raaje TV alleges political motivation behind satellite uplink delay

The chairman of private broadcaster Raaje TV has alleged that government interference is to blame for the channel being denied a satellite uplink permit to broadcast across the country’s atolls.

Akram Kamaaluddin today claimed that the Ministry of Transport and Communication had been interfering in the permit matter, resulting in the channel yesterday being unable to broadcast programming via satellite.  He claimed the decision was taken despite earlier assurances from the Communication Authority of the Maldives (CAM) that a license would be issued.

The Communications Ministry responded to the claims saying it would be providing Raaje TV with the required permit “as soon as possible”, adding that the private broadcaster was treated no differently to other channels in the country.

However, Akram said that after applying for an uplink permit two weeks ago, Raaje TV still found itself yesterday only able to broadcast programming through the country’s limited cable network – making the channel unavailable to an estimated 80 percent of the national television audience.

“We had previously been supplied an uplink through [telco] Wataniya, however there were some problems with this service. We therefore decided to set up an uplink on our own.  This requires permission from the CAM,” he said.

Despite assurances that the permit would be granted, Akram claimed that the CAM responded it would have to issue a temporary license to the broadcaster for six months.

“However, after I called CAM yesterday afternoon, I was informed they were unable to do this as the [Communications] Minister said they were in the process of introducing a new policy,” he said.

Having not received any notice about the new regulations being imposed. Akram alleged that Raaje TV was the only channel to have been unable to acquire the permit, a decision he said was politically motivated due to the channel’s news coverage since February’s controversial transfer of power.

Raaje TV’s allegations have been backed by the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which contends that the CAM had withheld the satellite uplink license due to the broadcaster having been critical of the current government.

“The satellite uplink license would allow Raajje TV to broadcast news and programming across the Maldives, and to reach audiences in the outer atolls where independent media is scarce and state owned media dominate the airwaves,” the MDP claimed in a statement today. “The denial of the license is a politically motivated attempt to suppress alternative views in the Maldives. The MDP calls on all relevant authorities to investigate to look into this matter immediately and with the utmost urgency.”

Responding to the allegations, Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News today that the allegations of the ministry acting in a politically motivated manner were a result of Akram “making his own judgement” about the matter.

He therefore maintained that Raaje TV would be given the uplink permit, though was unable to set a time-line for when it would be made available.

“I spoke with Raaje TV yesterday and told them they would be given the license as soon as possible” he said. “I don’t have a time limit for when this will be.”

Shamheed stressed that the process did take time and that the CAM’s Chief Executive, Ilyas Ahmed, had been away until the last few days, delaying response to the matter.

“I think this is an overreaction on Raaje TV’s part,” he claimed.

MJA concern

While uncertain as to whether there was truth in the claims of political motivation preventing Raaje TV from acquiring the uplink permit, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) nonetheless today raised concerns over the failure for a license to be issued.

MJA president ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir said that the association believed that no government should not interfere or block any specific political views from the nation’s airwaves.

Zahir added that when dealing with the issue of permits, once a media outlet was approved a license by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the government should not seek to interfere in issues relating to the CAM.

“I don’t have all the information right now, but Raaje TV has not given an uplink service,” he said. “Government should not intervene in these matters, that is the MJA’s view,” he said.

Back in May, Raaje TV alleged its reporters had faced physical attacks and intimidation by security forces since the transfer of power, while claiming ministers of the current administration had refused to engage with the station.

However, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) said at the time that there were no “challenges to freedom of the press” in the present political environment.

During April, the offices of private broadcaster Villa Television (VTV) were attacked during confrontations between security forces and alleged anti-government protesters in Male’ on March 19.

VTV was briefly brought off air following the incident – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”. Local media bodies also criticised anti-government protesters for allegedly threatening journalists and media personnel covering the clashes.

A month before this incident, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef expressed doubt over whether a free media can flourish in the Maldives at the present time.

“We see that although we talk of democracy and freedom of media and expression, I don’t think society is ready to digest a free media,” said Nazeef.


Raajje TV disputes legal threat from BBC after airing Hardtalk recording

Local private television channel Raajje TV has disputed claims made by the local media that the BBC has threatened to take legal action against the station, after it released a live telecast of an interview with former President Mohamed Nasheed that was to be shown on the BBC’s Hardtalk Program.

Nasheed recorded the interview in the Raajje TV studio and spoke to Hardtalk presenter Stephen Sackur over the phone.

The interview concerned Nasheed’s allegations that he had been forced to resign and was effectively ousted in to a coup d’état on Tuesday February 7. The show was scheduled to be aired on Thursday night, by Raajje TV, but was live broadcasted during its recording last night.

Local media Haveeru reported that BBC had threatened to take legal action, citing an alleged email forwarded to Raaje TV from Hard Talk producer, Heather Shiels.

In the email Sheils expressed her disappointment over the actions of Raaje TV, which she described as a “clear breach of both contract and copyright and the BBC editorial guidelines,” Haveeru reported.  “We have asked our lawyers to investigate this matter.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Raaje TV Deputy CEO Abdulla Yameen refuted the claims, saying that “nobody from our organisation has received an email from the BBC threatening take legal action against us”.

He said that the local media is reporting the claims because they could not “digest the popularity” Raajje TV has gained recently for the up to date coverage of the intense political unrest in the Maldives.

“Our action [the live telecast] was solely based on the negotiations we had with the BBC,” Yameen said, adding that the channel had not violated any copyright law.

In an earlier edition of Hardtalk aired in December 2010, Nasheed was grilled on his adherence to human rights, the Maldives’ financial condition and its commitment to combating climate change.

Nasheed on Hardtalk part 1/3

Nasheed on Hardtalk part 2/3

Nasheed on Hardtalk 3/3