As the country sank deeper into an unprecedented political crisis amid mounting press freedom violations, Raajje TV’s Hussain Hassan and VTV’s Leevan Ali Nasir were both the victims of police violence when arrested during the demonstration on the evening of 16 February in Malé, the capital.
Badly injured and unconscious, Hassan was rushed to Malé’s ADK hospital and was flown to Sri Lanka on Sunday night to receive additional treatment, narrowly avoiding the police officers who pursued him to the barrier of the international departures area in Malé airport.
“The violence by the security forces against journalists trying to do their job is completely unacceptable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The authorities must cease their intimidation attempts and must respect the Maldives constitution, which guarantees media freedom even during a state of emergency. And it is completely intolerable for the government to hold journalists responsible for this political crisis.”
The vice-president of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Abdul Raheem Abdulla, accused Raajje TV and VTV of “spreading discord” while, in a tweet, the PPM’s parliamentary leader went so far as to accuse the two TV channels of organizing the demonstration without producing any evidence to support this claim.
A police communiqué accused the journalists of “spreading false information” and behaving like demonstrators, and denied any use of violence against them, although in fact the police did not hesitate to beat reporters covering the demonstration and to use teargas against them.
In all, about 20 journalists working for various media outlets were treated in hospital for the injuries they sustained during the protest.
President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been stepping up its harassment of the media and its press freedom violations ever since proclaiming a state of emergency on 5 February, which has just been extended for another 15 days. Last week, RSF and other NGOs issued a joint appeal to the authorities to let journalists work without risk of reprisals.
Maldives is ranked 117th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.