CPJ urges Maldives to drop charges against Raajje TV journalists

CPJ urges Maldives to drop charges against Raajje TV journalists
January 21 15:55 2017

New-York based press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has urged the Maldivian authorities to drop criminal charges against three journalists on trial for obstructing police officers.

Raajje TV journalists Mohamed Wisam, Leevaan Ali Nasir and Adam Zareer are guilty of nothing more than covering events of significant public interest,” said CPJ Asia programme coordinator, Steven Butler, in a statement on Friday.

“Maldives authorities should cease pursuing charges against these three journalists and drop these embarrassing attempts to muzzle the media.”

The three are the first journalists to stand trial in more than a decade.

Wisam and Leevan are expected to be sentenced on Wednesday. The criminal court found the pair guilty of obstructing police officers in December, but unexpectedly postponed issuing a sentence.

Prosecutors are asking for a jail sentence of four months and 24 days, but defence counsel have appealed for the judge to impose a fine in lieu of imprisonment.

Wisam and Leevan were charged after they were arrested along with Raajje TV’s Hussein Fiyaz Moosa during the station’s coverage of police attempts to defuse a bomb found near the presidential palace.

All three later alleged abuses in police custody.

Fiyaz was charged with assault, but prosecutors dropped the charges.

Wisam faces a second charge of obstructing police while covering a March 2015 protest. Hearings are on going.

A verdict in the trial of Zareer, who was arrested alongside Wisam and charged with obstructing police, was expected on January 16. It has now been postponed to February 27.

The CPJ said the Maldivian authorities have singled out Raajje TV for harassment.

Meanwhile, speaking to the Maldives Independent, Wisam, Leevan and Zareer have said that they were willing to risk jail to continue reporting.

Zareer said that despite the threats, arrests and legal action, he had not consdered quitting journalism.

Zareer added: “this is the most important public service one can do in the Maldives – to keep the public informed.”

Leevan said that his conviction has only encouraged him to continue his work as a journalist: “If anything, I am more encouraged, because I realise now how important it is that journalists continue doing their work.”

Wisam said: “The mounting pressure against Raajje TV is proof that this authoritarian regime is afraid of the work of journalists. This is why we must not stop reporting.”