MDP and Sangu TV in row over live broadcast of rallies

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) suspended its rally on Thursday night after privately-owned Sangu TV broadcast the event live without permission.

MP Ahmed Mahloof told Minivan News an opposition supporter had removed Sangu TV’s microphone from the podium at the opposition’s campaign office or Haruge, resulting in a confrontation between “gangsters” who supported the TV channel and opposition supporters.

Sangu TV however said the group were its staff.

The rally was suspended for 40 minutes and restarted at 11:45pm.

“This is very disappointing coming from a party that supposedly works for press freedom,” Miuvan Mohamed, head of news at Sangu TV, said.

The nightly rallies are part of the opposition’s campaign against tyranny to free ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defense minister Mohamed Nazim, who were respectively sentenced to 13 years and 11 years in jail in trials criticized for lack of due process.

In a letter to Sangu TV on June 30, MDP said privately-owned Raajje TV owned exclusive rights to broadcast rallies at the Haruge. Sangu TV should respect the decision and come to an agreement with Raajje TV on broadcasting Haruge events, the party said.

“They cannot live broadcast from a private location after somebody else has been given exclusive right. It’s similar to how specific channels are given rights to live broadcasts to a football match,” Mahloof said.

That same night, the front doors at the MDP’s headquarters were vandalized. The party said it is uncertain if the two events were related, while the station denies any connection.

Miuvan said he believed Haruge activities are public events and said the recently launched channel was trying to “bring all sides of the story in a balanced manner without taking sides.”

Sangu TV was launched on April 30 with several former staff at Raajje TV.

The station is owned by MP Abdulla Yameen, who defected from the MDP to the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) this year.

Miuvan said opposition supporters may be calling the station’s staff gangsters because some of them had long hair. “All of them would have had Sangu TV’s press card with them.”

Translation: “The scales have tipped to one side. We hope the MDP will not bar other media from its activities.”

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said all media are welcome to report on events at the Haruge. “The MDP-Raajje TV agreement does not mean other media cannot record the events and report on it. But if they want to live broadcast it they have to get prior permission from Raajje TV.”

Raajje TV said it has invited advertisers to sponsor coverage of the Haruge events. “Some TV stations’ attempts to forcefully provide live coverage of the Haruge activities is aimed at damaging Raajje TV.”

Some opposition supporters have called for a boycott of Sangu TV after the row.

Sangu is the Dhivehi word for the conch shell. It was the name of a dissident magazine produced in the early 90s by former president Nasheed.


Cameraman ‘forced’ to erase footage of PG meeting judge

A cameraman of the opposition aligned Raajje TV was forced to erase footage of a meeting between prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin and criminal court judge Abdul Bari Yousuf at a café, the broadcasting commission has found.

The PG allegedly met Bari at the Café Layaali in Malé on March 8 while the latter was presiding over former president Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

The pair have denied the meeting took place, and Muhsin has previously said he would resign immediately if the allegations are proven to be true.

Following an inquiry, the commission determined on Monday that the Raajje TV journalists “faced reasons forcing them to delete the footage.”

“As the commission saw that this was a situation that obstructed press freedom, the members who participated in the meeting to conclude this case decided unanimously to appeal to all parties to ensure that broadcasters and the media as a whole do not face such compulsion in order to maintain an environment where journalists can fully exercise the right guaranteed by the constitution and laws without fear,” reads the summary statement of the report prepared the commission.

The commission also investigated a complaint alleging that Raajje TV disseminated false information as PG Muhsin denied meeting the judge. The commission decided that the station did not violate the broadcasting code of content as it had sought comment from both Muhsin and Bari.

The meeting took place days before a three-judge panel sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges. Judge Bari also presided over ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s trial on weapons smuggling charges.

After Raajje TV reported the alleged meeting, the criminal court barred the station’s reporters from attending hearings. The court accused Raajje TV of “spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges.”

Muhsin meanwhile told Minivan News at the time that the judge was already at the café when he went there for a meal with family members.

However, Raajje TV insisted the pair were sitting at the same table and that Muhsin had walked away when the journalist started asking questions.

At the time, a Raajje TV staff told Minivan News that a group of young men led by Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Assad forced the cameramen to delete the footage.

In 2013, the watchdog Judicial Service Commission suspended Judge Bari for over a year pending the outcome of a complaint lodged against him for alleged misconduct.

Although the commission did not reveal any details of the complaint, local media reported that a female attorney from the Prosecutor General’s Office had alleged that Bari had sexually assaulted her.

Bari was cleared of the allegations and resumed duty at Criminal Court on July 24, 2014.


Arrested journalists freed but may still be charged

Three journalists who were arrested during a protest last Wednesday have been released, but may still face charges.

Police detained the three, two from Raajje TV and another from Channel One, for “obstructing police business”. They were released on Monday evening after five days in custody, but a police media official said they could still be charged.

“If they get enough evidence to support a case we will forward the case to the prosecutor general. We will not make exceptions for journalists,” he said.

Raajje TV has condemned the arrests, saying the journalists were just doing their jobs.

Adam Zareer, a Raajje TV cameraman who was held, told Minivan News of his arrest: “All I heard was some saying ‘Take him!’ and then suddenly I was being dragged away with my camera and mic. They did not tell me why I was being arrested.”

Mohamed Wisam, also from Raajje TV, told Minivan News: “When our cameraman was being arrested, I asked the police why he was being arrested. Then they said, ‘Okay, you’re obstructing us now,’ and then they arrested me.”

Local media had reported Zareer was held for refusing to switch off his camera light, but he said this was not correct. Police had complained about the light on a previous evening, and Zareer had moved away, but the light was not an issue on the evening of his arrest.

Mohamed Niyaz, a journalist from Channel One, was also held.

All three were taken to Dhoonidhoo detention center and strip-searched.

“We are not criminals or dangers to society. However, we report about such people and when we were put in the same cell block as them, it was quite frightening for us,” said Wisam.

In a court hearing, police said the three had been detained because they were pushing past barricaded areas and pushing the shields of Special Operations officers. The journalists denied the claim and said they had been carrying press passes.

Raajje TV, whose office has previously been attacked, said last week it was standing by its reporters.

The arrests follow a series of attacks on journalists that have given rise to concerns over press freedom.

In August 2014, Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan went missing; he has still not been found. Four arrests were initially made, but all of the suspects were released and authorities have not reported any further progress in the case.

Another journalist, Ibrahim “Asward” Waheed, nearly died after being assaulted with iron rods in February 2013. His case is still ongoing in court.


CPJ urges Maldives to free Raajje TV and Channel One journalists

New York-based Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday urged the government of Maldives to free three journalists arrested from opposition protests last week.

“We call on the authorities to immediately release Mohamed Wisam, Adam Zareer, and Mohamed Niyaz, and allow journalists in the Maldives to do their jobs freely and safely,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said.

Opposition-aligned Raajje TV’s Wisam and Zareer were arrested late on Wednesday evening while covering the Alliance Against Brutality’s nightly protest. They were subsequently placed under a five-day remand.

Channel One’s cameraman Niyaz was arrested on Tuesday. He was remanded for ten days.

The Maldives Police Services said the three journalists were arrested along with several protesters for “obstructing police duties and disobeying police orders.”

“By holding these journalists without charge for days at a time, authorities in the Maldives are clearly trying to suppress news coverage of events through silencing and intimidation,” Dietz said.

Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of its staff, Raajje TV on Wednesday said: “Over the past month, Wisam and Zareer have been working tirelessly in covering the various protests and activities held in Malé City, in difficult circumstances and often under the threat of violence.”

The station also noted it was “yet to receive any justice with regards to previous attacks targeted to our station and journalists.”

Raajje TV head quarters were torched and destroyed in an arson attack in October 2013. Its former journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed was nearly beaten to death in February 2013. No one has been held accountable for the attacks.

According to the President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) Mohamed Shaheeb, the Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed in a phone call on Thursday pledged to expedite investigations and free the three journalists as soon as possible.

Speaking to Haveeru, Shaheeb urged journalists to act professionally in covering protests, claiming some act like opposition activists at gatherings, pushing back against riot police shields and aiming their cameras inches away from police officers’ faces.

“The Maldives Police Services facilitates the opportunity for journalists to cover protests. So I urge journalists to be more professional than they are now. If journalists acted within their bounds, it would be easier for us to advocate on their behalf when they get arrested from protests. Even so, we are working on these cases,” he said.

This year, the Maldives fell to 112th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, marking a decline for the fourth consecutive year.

Last year saw numerous death threats sent to journalists, the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, and a machete buried at the door of the Minivan News office.

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen vowed that his administration would not take action against the media “no matter how far journalists take the freedom offered by this government”.

In May 2014, the MBC released a landmark ‘Threat Analysis Report‘ which found 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat. Gangs, religious extremists and parliament placed second while the government was rated third.


Criminal Court barring Raajje TV from trials “unacceptable,” says media council

The Criminal Court’s decision to bar opposition-aligned Raajje TV from observing trials is “unacceptable,” the Maldives Media Council (MMC) has said.

The court had accused the station of “spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges” after a Raajje TV journalist and cameraman videotaped an alleged meeting between Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin at Café Layaali in Malé on Sunday night.

At a press conference today, MMC President Mohamed Asif ‘Mondhu’ said the court could have barred the journalist involved in the incident instead of barring all journalists from the station.

Mondhu also noted that the cameraman was forced to delete the footage.

A Raajje TV staff told Minivan News that a group of young men led by Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Assad forced the cameramen to delete it.

While taking video footage inside a public restaurant was not illegal, Mondhu said Café Layaali’s owner would have been within his rights to either obstruct filming or ask them to leave if patrons complained.

“However, if the footage is not connected to the owner, [they] can’t order it to be deleted,” he said.

Mondhu also criticised police for not stopping the group from forcing the Raajje TV cameramen to delete the footage, characterising the incident as police’s failure to provide security to media personnel.

MMC member Ahmed Hamdhoon meanwhile said the council would investigate the case to identify the culprits.

Judge Bari is currently presiding over the trials of both former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The alleged meeting took place hours after the seventh hearing of Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

PG Muhsin told Minivan News that the judge was already at the café when he went there for a meal with family members.

“The crew were right next to me. But I don’t even think they recognised me. Because they didn’t videotape me, they were taping Bari who was sitting at another table. I don’t know why they would accuse me of such a thing. Anyone there would clearly see that I was sitting with a separate group of people and Judge Bari was sitting at another table,” he said.

However, Raajje TV insists the pair were sitting at the same table smoking shisha and that Muhsin walked away when the journalist started asking questions.

MP Assad and the group arrived shortly thereafter and forced the cameramen to delete the footage, after which Specialist Operations (SO) officers escorted the Raajje TV staff to the police station.

The police conducted body searches and took statements from the crew. They were released afterwards.

A police spokesperson said Raajje TV crew members had not been arrested, but detained briefly for videotaping in Café Layaali without the owner’s permission.

Related to this story

Raajje TV barred from Criminal Court, accused of threatening judge

Judges Didi and Yoosuf refuse to step down from Nasheed’s terrorism trial

JSC clears Criminal Court Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf of ethical misconduct


Broadcasting Commission to investigate Criminal Court barring Rajje TV from court proceedings

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) is to investigate the Criminal’s Court’s decision to bar Raajje TV journalists from court proceedings.

The opposition aligned broadcaster was barred from the Criminal Court after a Rajje TV journalist and cameraman videotaped an alleged meeting between Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin at Café Layaali in Malé on Sunday night.

“Raaje TV has been barred from attending hearings because they are spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges,” a Criminal Court official told media yesterday.

MBC has also decided to investigate whether Rajje TV journalists had breached codes of ethics by videotaping Muhsin and Bari at the café.

Muhsin has denied the meeting took place, claiming he had been at the café for a separate meal with his family. The PG has said he would resign if the meeting could be proved.

Raajje TV crew said they were forced to delete the footage after a ruling party MP and gang members arrived at the café and threatened them.


Maldives slides in RSF press freedom index to 112th place

The Maldives has fallen to 112th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2015, dropping four places and marking a significant decline for the fourth consecutive year.

RSF annually ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria, including media pluralism, independence, respect for safety and freedom of journalists, and the country’s legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment for the media.

Last year saw numerous death threats sent to journalists, the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, and a machete buried at the door of the Minivan News office.

Speaking to Minivan News, Maldives Media Council (MMC) member Miusam Abbas contended that the decline in the press freedom index reflects the government’s restrictions on the media.

“The government has been pushing to restrain the media in so many ways,” he alleged.

“We have seen continuous threats to journalist where the government failed to investigate the matter and also the government has been biased in providing information to media as well.”

Miusam suggested Rilwan’s disappearance was the biggest factor in last year’s decline. Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint at 2:00am outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network released a report in September implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance. Home Minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

“It is a shame that the government has absolutely done nothing of relevance to find the journalist Ahmed Rilwan. I interpret this as a threat to the media in Maldives. After all, how can a journalist truly be free of fear while reporting when one of their colleagues has been missing for months?” Miusam asked.

Miusam also accused the government of actively assisting newly formed pro-government media outlets whilst deliberately recruiting journalists from other independent news organisations.

“This is an act to deliberately ruin targeted media organisations,” he claimed.

An environment where journalists could report freely in news organisations that were not financially dependent on politicians is essential for press freedom to flourish in the Maldives, Miusam said.

“If we look at the big media organisations now we can see that they are either funded or owned by a politician. The only solution I see is for the media to run as normal business without the backing of politicians or politically influenced organisations,” he explained.

Following the attack on the Minivan News office last September, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon expressed “deep concern” with the increasing intimidation and threats faced by journalists.

She assured that “the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen vowed that his administration would not take action against the media “no matter how far journalists take the freedom offered by this government.”

“Even now in newspapers and TV channels they are talking about various matters. Regarding the government or responsible officials in the government, they are saying there are people in the government who have committed various crimes,” he said, adding that the government would not order investigations or respond with litigation.

“So there will be press freedom in the Maldives under this government to an extent that journalists have never seen before. Criticism of the government’s actions is not that big a problem for this government. Talking about myself or my character is not a problem for me. So why wouldn’t there be press freedom?”

Yameen’s remarks came shortly after his administration faced criticism over the absence of either the president or a cabinet minister at a ceremony held to mark World Press Freedom Day, which saw the introduction of the first Maldives Journalism Awards.


Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th.

The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation – rising to 51st and 52nd respectively.

However, the Maldives slid to 73rd in 2011, 103rd in 2012, and 108th in 2013.

In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.

The Maldives was ranked between Nigeria and Zambia in the 2015 index. With a score of 34.32, the Maldives was listed among countries with “noticeable problems.”

Three Scandinavian countries – Finland, Norway, and Denmark – topped the RSF index while Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea were the worst performers at the other end of the scale.

Related to this story

Maldives slides on press freedom index for third consecutive year

15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Criminal Court releases suspect in Minivan News attack

Q&A: “With patience, until I die” – Rilwan’s mother vows to continue the search


MDP condemns insecurity as PPM celebrates peace and order

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed concern over rising insecurity, claiming President Abdulla Yameen has failed to protect right to life and security on his administration’s first year anniversary.

In a statement issues yesterday (November 16), the MDP highlighted Yameen’s failure to find missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, to address the rising numbers of Maldivians traveling abroad for jihad in Syria, or to bring to justice perpetrators behind the stabbing of former MP Alhan Fahmy, the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali, or the torching of opposition aligned Raajje TV.

“On this administration’s one year anniversary, there is no peace in the Maldives and the government has failed to protect citizens,” the statement said.

The MDP said the Yameen administration has failed to investigate the abduction and beating of several individuals by gangs, a spate of knifings and killings, death threats against journalists and politicians, and the vandalism of MDP members’ residences and properties.

However, speaking at a rally to mark the third anniversary of ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Yameen said his administration has established peace and order in the country and accused the opposition of inciting terror and calling for anarchy in the Maldives.

“We have peace and order in Malé and all regions of Maldives. We have peace. However, this is not to say that isolated and significant dangerous crimes do not occur,” he said.

The PPM was established in 2010 “as an act of Jihad” to address terror, anarchy, torture and climate of fear during Nasheed’s tenure, he continued.

Referring to Nasheed’s order to arrest himself, Vice President Dr Ahmed Jameel Mohamed, and Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, Yameen said the former president had attempted to silence all dissident voices in the country.

The PPM will tolerate dissent, he pledged.

Nasheed had arrested judges, refused to abide by the decisions of opposition MPs, undermined religious scholars and Islam, and his supporters had torched government buildings, Yameen continued.

“President Maumoon then believed we had to embark on jihad,” he said.

Yameen went on to defend Nasheed’s ouster in February 2012, claiming the move was not illegal, but necessary to uphold the constitution.

“PPM is a party that loves peace,” he said.

The MDP has recently described Yameen’s administration has having been taken hostage by gangs and rogue police officers, while international groups have expressed alarm at the rise in gang violence in recent months.


Raajje TV secures assistance for three families enduring hardship

Private broadcaster Raajje TV has secured financial assistance for three underprivileged families enduring hardship who were featured in a special programme called ‘Dreams’ aired during Ramadan.

The first show told the story of a woman from Kaafu Guraidhoo struggling to survive with a husband whose kidneys had failed. Her “dream” was to have medical care available without having to travel.

With the help of private sponsors, Raajje TV presented the family a fully-furnished apartment in Malé with rent paid for a year.

Additionally, Dhiraagu donated a mobile phone, free internet for a year, and a one-year worth prepaid voucher while Avid College pledged to provide one year’s tuition-free higher education for a child in the family.

Moreover, MVR14,500 (US$940) donated from various parties were also presented to the family. The financial assistance was presented to the three families at at a ceremony on Sunday night (August 17).

The second show of the programme told the story of a family on the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll with four special needs children. The family’s hope was being able to move to an apartment in Hulhumalé provided by the state.

In addition to furniture for the apartment donated by sponsors, including a washing machine, television, notebook computer, Allied Medicals pledged to provide free medical care to the youngest child.

Raajje TV also raised MVR35,000 (US$2,270) to pay rent for the apartment and arranged for a monthly stipend of MVR2,000 (US$130).

The third programme featured a single mother in Raa Meedhoo caring for a child with special needs while raising her other children. Her hope was to be able to work from home and earn an income.

Well-wishers donated three sewing machines and a laptop while Avid College pledged to cover costs of a degree course for one of her children. Allied Medicals meanwhile sponsored healthcare costs of the child with special needs.