Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the threats to Maldivian journalists and media since the events of 7 February, when Mohamed Nasheed was replaced as president. Adam Shareef, the former director-general of the state-owned national TV broadcaster, the Maldivian National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), has told Reporters Without Borders that the police and army used force to take it over on 7 February.
Shareef’s account is confirmed by local media reports and a video posted online today shows a police officer using a gun to get into the MNBC’s headquarters.
“The international community must take full account of the danger to the media and to freedom of information in the Maldives,” Reporters Without Borders said. “For the moment, media coverage of the incidents taking place in this Indian Ocean archipelago is limiting the violence against journalists.
“But, once the international community’s attention moves on, we fear that media personnel, especially those who are branded as ‘pro-Nasheed,’ could be exposed to reprisals by supporters of the new government or by the security forces, which may not be fully under the new government’s control.”
As protesters converged on MNBC headquarters on 7 February, a police officer used a firearm to force the door giving access to the building, allowing fellow police officers, soldiers and other protesters to enter. Armed with sticks, steel bars and other blunt objects, they took control of the building and from there began broadcasting the opposition television station VTC, subsequently renamed Television Maldives (TVM).
It should be noted that Maldivian policemen are not normally equipped with handguns.
Watch the video footage of the takeover of MNBC:
Once inside the building, the protesters smashed doors and windows, destroyed equipment, threatened journalists and ordered them to stop working.
In this telephone interview with Reporters Without Borders, Shareef gives a detailed account of the takeover of MNBC and his summary dismissal by the authorities:
Reporters Without Borders hopes that the Commonwealth ministerial mission, which is to investigate the circumstances of last week’s change of government, will also shed light on the takeover of MNBC, the use of threats and violence against certain journalists and media, and the threats to which several journalists continue to be exposed.
The Maldives is ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-1012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.