Maldivian journalists today held a peaceful demonstration against increased state repression of the media. The issues raised include: the court ordered closure of Haveeru, Maldives’ most established news outlet; new legislation proposing to criminalise defamation; President Yameen’s nomination of PPM members to the broadcasting commission; the Criminal Court’s banning of reporters from several media outlets; and the investigation into the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist, Ahmed Rilwan.
The MDP condemns the excessive force used by the state to confront today’s media protest and calls for the immediate release of all journalists arrested. Protesters were pepper sprayed to the point of requiring hospitalisation, and over 16 journalists have been detained without due cause. There have also been significant delays to detained journalists being granted access to legal counsel. MDP notes with concern that the Yameen Government’s egregious abuse of press freedom has resulted in the Maldives falling to pre-2004 rankings in the world press freedom index. This is a significant deterioration of the rights guaranteed under the Maldives’ constitution, and yet another disturbing sign of democracy in reverse in the country.
The MDP further condemns Home Minister Umar Naseer’s comments, which appeared to condone the excessive force used by Police and Military against peaceful demonstrators, while stating that journalists were protesting on instructions of the MDP as a means to engineer photo opportunities to present to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. The MDP reminds the Government of the CMAG’s recommendations which include ‘practical confidence-building measures that promote freedom and space for civil society’ and prevention of ‘on going use of anti-terrorism or other legislation to stifle national political debate’. The MDP again calls upon the Government to guarantee the rights of the press as outlined in the Constitution and as recommended by the international community.
MDP’s Spokesperson for International Affairs, Hamid Abdul Gafoor stated, ‘the Yameen Government’s callous disregard for press freedom has been witnessed on numerous occasions, highlighted by the shameful investigation carried out by the Police in the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan. Today’s crackdown is yet another blow to press freedom in the Maldives. The Government must immediately release all journalists and recall repressive legislation against the media.’