Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to harassment and threats against journalists in Maldives after the government tried to prevent coverage of opposition activities in the wake of a surprising supreme court decision last week and finally proclaimed a state of emergency yesterday.
Media freedom has been repeatedly violated since the supreme court announced its decision in 1 February that detained opposition politicians should be freed and opposition parliamentarians should be reinstated.
Journalists, above all reporters for Raajje TV, an opposition TV channel, have been the victims of police violence, especially while covering joyful opposition demonstrations. Teargas has been used indiscriminately against media personnel and one journalist, Sun Online reporter Muaviyath Anwar, said a policeman struck him with a baton when he showed him his press card.
“This government must cease its grave violations of the freedom to inform,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Amid the current political tension, it is essential that journalists should be able to do their work with complete freedom.
“The proclamation of a state of emergency must not be used as grounds for press freedom violations. Instead of stigmatizing independent media, the authorities need to understand that allowing journalists to publish information of interest to the public is the best way to avoid an escalation.”
Ismail Sofwan, member of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, which polices the broadcast media, warned commercial TV stations after the supreme court decision, threatening them with closure if their reporting jeopardized “national security.”
Ruling party deputy chief Abdul Raheem Abdullah meanwhile called on the security forces to immediately close Raajje TV, which has at the same time been the target of threats for several days.
President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been under pressure ever since the supreme court issued its decision overturning the conviction of political prisoners and ordering the reinstatement of a dozen opposition parliamentarians who had been stripped of their mandates.
The government has been trying to prevent media coverage of the ensuing turmoil, as parliament was closed and successive police chiefs were fired to prevent implementation of the supreme court decision.
In an attempt to gag political prisoners, the Maldives Correctional Service has already issued a communiqué on 29 January warning that it would bring judicial proceedings against journalists and media outlets that reported statements by detainees.
RSF is alarmed by the decline in freedom of information and the increase in violence against journalists in Maldives. Yameen Rasheed, an influential blogger, was stabbed to death in his home in April 2017, probably the victim of censorship because of his coverage of government corruption. There has not yet been any credible investigation into his death.
Maldives is ranked 117th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
(C) 2018 Reporters without Borders