News

July 15, 2020

Maldivian president’s comms chief accused of sexually harassing journalist

Rae Munavvar is pictured among other journalists of The Edition, at the launching ceremony on May 15, 2018 (photo: Nishan Ali / edition.mv).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Maldives’ President Ibu Solih to adopt appropriate sanctions in the case of a newspaper editor who says she was sexually harassed by his head of communications and who filed complaints months ago without any action being taken.

Rae Munavvar, the editor of The Edition, the English-language version of the Mihaaru daily newspaper, reported in a tweet on 8 July that no action had been taken in response to the formal complaints she filed on 4 February of this year against Hassan Ismail, the secretary of communications at the president's office.

 

Munavvar alleges that, at a meeting in February 2019, Ismail offered her staff training opportunities and exclusive access, including on foreign presidential visits, if she “spent some time” with him in a resort or in his apartment in Sri Lanka. He also allegedly offered to help her father, a former attorney general, get a prestigious post in the administration.

 

RSF has learned that Munavvar and her news organization reported the alleged harassment to the president’s office immediately after it took place, nearly 18 months ago, but the president’s office took seven months to acknowledge receipt and then took no action.

 

Inaction

 

In the absence of any action, Munavvar finally filed formal sexual harassment complaints with the president’s office, the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission on 4 February, one year after the event. But again, no action was taken, and it was only after her tweet on 8 July that the police responded (on Twitter) that an investigation had been opened.

 

“The shocking inaction in response to Rae Munavvar’s complaints is indicative of serious problems with the Maldivian administration and police,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“We call on President Ibu Solih to intervene at once by firing his communications director and launching an internal investigation into this unacceptable case of sexual harassment combined with an attempt to bribe a journalist. The credibility of the rule of law in the Republic of Maldives is at stake.”

 

After an administration that was very hostile to any journalistic criticism took over in 2013, Maldives’ ranking in RSF's World Press Freedom Index fell from 103rd that year to 120th in 2018. Ibrahim Mohamed “Ibu” Solih’s election as president in September 2018 raised many hopes that, for the most part, have yet to be realized.

 

The Indian Ocean archipelago is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Index.