Freedom of expression under attack in the Maldives

VoW/2013/034

7 October 2013

VoW strongly condemns the arson attack on Raajje TV early this morning (7 October 2013), the only pro-democracy television station in the Maldives. The full extent of the damage is yet unknown, but the main studio and all the equipment in it are reported to have been damaged. The arsonists entered the building after brutally stabbing a security guard on duty, who is in hospital being treated for his injuries.

The attack took place in the wake of the government’s baseless threats and on-going investigations against the civil society and news agencies alleging them of creating doubt and mistrust in the Supreme Court judges.

We find the claims by the government that civil society and other organizations are creating strife and mistrust against judges as ludicrous and we believe these are targeted and systematic attempts by the government to silence the voice of the people and hurl us back to the environment of fear and muzzling that we had during the dictatorial times from 1978 till 2008.

We note that the Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed is in the midst of a sex tape scandal where he is allegedly seen engaging in sex acts with several women who are possible victims of sex trafficking in a neighboring country. Mr. Ali Hameed is also being investigated for possible blackmail using the sex tapes by an advisor to the president of the Maldives.

The attack on Raajje TV also precedes the Supreme Court verdict on the first round of the elections due to be announced this afternoon. Raajje TV has been the only TV station in the Maldives covering the protests against the Supreme Court’s decisions to indefinitely postpone the second round of the elections, and reporting on the arbitrary arrests and police brutality towards protestors, including several women.

The attack on free media is equivalent to an attack on democracy. Such attacks on press freedom has drastically increased since the change of government in February 2012. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened by the police, during anti-government protests. In February 2013, Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim Asward Waheed was brutally stabbed and took several months to recover from the injuries sustained. Also months, following several journalists have been attacked and have continuously received death threats. In addition to this Raajje TV studio has been subjected to vandalism on several occasions. It has come to our attention several incidences of selective protection offered by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to TV stations based on their political affiliations which has led to intimidation of journalists and the vulnerability of their agencies at a time of political turmoil.

Attempts to curtail freedom of expression, free flow of information and media pluralism cannot be tolerated in a democratic society. These are fundamental principles of democracy that needs to be safeguarded; with this, VoW calls upon the government of the Maldives to urgently address these issues, take strict action and hold those responsible accountable.

END