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From our Member Maldivian Democracy Network, Maldives – Statement on Press Freedom Day 2017

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It is unfortunate that freedom of press has been deteriorating in Maldives. We fall under the “Not Free” category in the World Press Freedom Index. This matter certainly cannot be ignored because the result came with good reason.

The abduction of Ahmed Rilwan, well-known journalist from Maldives Independent, over three years ago lead to a state of panic within the journalists in Maldives. The fact that we still have no answers only contributes to it. Police negligence on the case lead his family to urge oversight bodies to look into state involvement in tampering with evidence, and allowing suspects to flee the country.

Similarly, Yameen Rasheed, a new media journalist and a human rights defender was stabbed to death on April 23, 2017, in his own home. He had reported many death threats with evidence to the police. No actions were taken regarding the threats and now we have lost another brilliant life.

The situation got worse with the introduction of “Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act”. It is evident that many journalists in Maldives are living under fear, yet the government fails to address this problem time and time again. Instead, they still seem to be worried about the press being “too free”, as some state officials’ tweets from today would indicate.

It was enforced on 11th August 2016. It not only allows regulators to set hefty fines against newspapers and other media, but also grants regulators the power to close them in case they fail to pay the charged amount.

It is also important to the “Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act”, three reporters from Raajje TV were charged for obstructing police officers.

EU described the criminalization of defamation as a direct threat to media, the opposition and civil society groups. They added that “the penalization of such acts in a country where the judiciary is not in compliance with international standards, only aggravates the situation further”. Similarly, the British High Commission construed the Act as a setback for freedom of expression and press in the country, as the “broadly defined restrictions and penalties in the bill fall short of widely accepted international
standards and the core values affirmed in the Commonwealth Charter”.

Prior to the implementation of the Act, three reporters from Raajje TV were charged for obstructing police officers while covering different events organized by the opposition.

Furthermore, the office of Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru was hit by an unsuccessful arson attack in April last year. The situation has only gotten worse for media. For instance, Dhi TV was shut down in August, soon after the implementation of
the Defamation Act. And several journalists from Raajje TV, along with the media outlet faced defamation charges and were made to pay huge sums in March 2017. These are damages on press freedom that cannot be reconciled.

We call on the government to retrace their steps and bring press freedom in accordance to our international obligations.