Joint Opposition Statement: Government Using Visa System to Prevent Foreign Journalists from Covering Presidential Elections

12 September, MALE: The Joint Opposition is concerned by reports it has received from a number of international journalists that they have been denied visas to cover the upcoming presidential elections in the Maldives.

We have heard that numerous journalists, representing highly respected international publications, have been denied visas for trivial or spurious reasons.

President Yameen has introduced new, draconian measures aimed at keeping foreign journalists out of the Maldives, in order to reduce scrutiny of his unlawful and unconstitutional behaviour.

The measures restricting journalists were first introduced following the 2016 Al Jazeera documentary Stealing Paradise, which exposed President Yameen’s involvement in massive corruption, bribery, the murder of a Maldivian journalist, and plans to blow up the Auditor-General’s office. The award-winning documentary also set out President Yameen’s links to international criminals and money-launderers.

Earlier this year, the visa requirements for foreign journalists were tightened again. Now, reporters have to firstly apply to the Elections Commission for a permit to cover the elections. Then they must apply to the immigration department for a business visa, which requires a Maldivian sponsor, and a completed ‘vetting form’ with details of previous employment, travel history, qualifications, bank account details, and a police certificate.

In August, the Immigration Department issued a press release warning foreign journalists that they would be subjected to “punitive measures” should they report on the elections without the appropriate visa.

— Pre-emptive cover-up —

The visa measures are a deliberate attempt to restrict foreign journalists from traveling to the Maldives for the election, thus reducing independent scrutiny of the vote and President Yameen’s likely attempts to steal it. In this regard, the measures should be viewed as a pre-emptive cover-up of planned electoral fraud.

The Joint Opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said on Twitter today that he “calls upon all authorities to reverse restrictive measures against international journalists.”