October 7, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Masked men torch opposition TV station

Reporters Without Borders condemns an arson attack by six masked men early this morning that destroyed much of the headquarters of Raajje TV, one of Maldives’ most popular television stations, one that supports the opposition. “This criminal act is a direct blow to freedom of information and we deplore the attitude of the police, who failed to do what was necessary to prevent the attack although the head of TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The police must immediately launch an investigation so that those who started this fire are arrested and brought to justice. We also call on the Maldivian authorities and the international community to help Raajje TV to resume providing news and information as soon as possible.” Reporters Without Borders added: “The national authorities have a duty to provide Raajje TV with proper equipment so that it can function in the same way as it did before the fire.” The fire was started by six masked men armed with steel bars and machetes who forced their way into the building in the early hours of this morning after restraining and stabbing its security guard. They then broke through a steel door leading to the TV station’s studios on the second floor, doused it with gasoline and set it alight. A witness said the injured guard repeatedly asked police stationed nearby to intervene, with no immediate success. Other witnesses said they called the police, who did not respond until after the entire premises were ablaze. The fire started at around 4:45 a.m. and was not put out until 7 a.m. With the help of other media, Raajje TV resumed limited broadcasting on a temporary basis at 1 pm today. It broadcast security camera footage of the fire and an interview with the vice-president of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission. Today’s arson attack came just a few days after Raajje TV broadcast a report entitled “Forum 15” about the threats it had been receiving. Yesterday evening, Raajje TV CEO Yamin Rasheed submitted a written request for protection to the police along details of the newest threats. His request received no reply, but the police have confirmed that they got his letter and said they stepped up patrols in the district today. Yesterday evening, Raajje TV covered an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party demonstration against the supreme court’s 23 September decision to suspend elections indefinitely. When a new government was installed in February 2012, both the police and the president’s office announced that they would no long cooperate with Raajje TV, which has been banned from the president’s news conferences and denied police protection during demonstrations. Raajje TV was previously prevented from broadcasting by incidents in August 2012 and, in February 2013, the station’s news director, Ibrahim Asward Waheed, was attacked by men on a motorcycle, who beat him with steel bars and left him for dead.