Court hears closing arguments in case against Raajje TV journalists

Court hears closing arguments in case against Raajje TV journalists
November 24 04:48 2016

The criminal court heard closing arguments Wednesday in the case against two journalists charged with obstructing police officers, and announced that a verdict will be delivered on December 19.

If found guilty, Mohamed Wisam and Leevan Ali Nasir face a fine of MVR26,000 (US$1687) or a jail term of four months.

The pair work for opposition-aligned Raajje TV, and are among the first journalists to stand trial in more than a decade.

Prosecutors concluded their case against Wisam and Leevan, reiterating that they had tackled a police officer to prevent him from arresting a third journalist, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, on November 2, 2015.

The prosecution rests on the testimony of four police officers.

Refuting the claim, lead defence counsel, Abdulla Haseen, raised questions over the testimonies, noting that one of the four witnesses included the officer who claims he was tackled.

The prosecution’s key witness meanwhile could not identify Wisam or Leevan, or describe in detail how the incident occurred, Haseen contended.

Three witnesses who had testified in Wisam and Leevan’s defence said the pair were attacked and beaten by the police instead, Haseen said.

Wisam, Leevan and Fiyaz were arrested near Malé’s sports arena during Raajje TV’s coverage of a bomb scare in the capital. The journalists claim police officers attacked and arrested them after telling them to leave the area.

Fiyaz was also charged with assault over the incident, but prosecutors have since dropped the charges after a judge questioned the prosecution’s case.

Wisam and a Raajje TV cameraman, Adam Zareer, are also being prosecuted on separate trial, also on charges of obstructing police duty during an anti-government protest on March 25, 2015.

The court is set to hear closing arguments against Zareer on November 29.

Hearings in the case against Wisam have been stalled as one of the prosecution’s witnesses is out of the country.

Raajje TV has dismissed the charges against its staff as “baseless in its entirety,” describing the trials as “an attack on press freedom and an attempt to impede, harass, and psychologically torture Raajje TV journalists with the objective of stopping Raajje TV’s independent broadcasts.”

Press freedom groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Federation of Journalists and Washington-based National Press Club have also expressed concern over declining press freedom in the Maldives.

The Maldives is now ranked 112th on the France-based Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index, which said the country remains “very hostile for independent and opposition media”.