Reporters Without Borders deplores the harassment of journalists in Maldives, where a state of emergency was declared on 4 November, and warns against any attempt to gag broadcast and online media.
Announced by President Abdulla Yameen just days before a major anti-government demonstration, the state of emergency follows months of political tension that was capped by a bombing and an attempted bombing in the capital, Male. During the days preceding the announcement, journalists were subjected to sudden arrest, intimidation and cyber-attacks. Some have told Reporters Without Borders they fear that the Internet could be disconnected in the coming days. This morning, the Male police raided privately-owned Sangu TV’s headquarters and ordered the suspension all broadcasting. The police then confiscated all of the TV station’s computer hard disks in the course of a three-hour search. The authorities accuse Sangu TV of posting a video online more than two months ago that showed the Islamic State logo and three masked men uttering death threats against President Yameen. Sangu TV managing director Ibrahim Asward Waheed insists that his TV station had nothing to do with the video. Waheed had received a summons from the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation on 4 November in connection with content regarded as problematic. He did not respond to the summons. “We firmly condemn the police raid on Sangu TV’s headquarters,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “The wave of attempts to intimidate and deter the media from doing investigative reporting is indicative of a desire to blinker journalists and prevent them from providing their fellow citizens with proper coverage of the current tension. We will be on the lookout for any attempt by the Maldivian authorities to use the state of emergency as a pretext for imposing a media blackout.” Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, the chief operations officer of Raajje TV, and two of the opposition TV station’s reporters, Mohamed Wisam and Leevan Ali Naseer, were arrested on 2 November while covering the army’s defusing of a bomb left in a car near the presidential palace in Male, in what appears to have been a second attempted bomb attack on the president. They were accused of “obstructing” the police, who requested their detention for 15 days on the grounds that they “posed a danger to society.” But a court ordered their release they next day. Raajje TV has reported that they were badly beaten while held. The Maldives Independent news website said the police also roughed up a reporter and a photographer who were trying to cover the operation to defuse the bomb. As soon as the state of emergency was declared, the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation warned privately-owned radio and TV stations that their licences would be withdrawn if they broadcast content “infringing on national security.” MBC president Mohamed Shakeeb called on the media to ensure that their reporting was factually accurate and did not encourage unrest. The broadcast media have been told they may refer to the reasons for the state emergency only after confirming them with the relevant authorities. Several news websites have reported interruptions in service. Haveeru and Sun Online were rendered inaccessible on the morning of 4 November as a result of DDoS attacks, in which servers are deliberately swamped by a flood of connection requests. Independent and opposition media have long been exposed to violence in Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago that is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index after falling 60 places since 2010.