The criminal court has threatened to take “legal action” against journalists who threaten the peace, stability and sovereignty of the Maldivian state.
In a stern statement issued Sunday afternoon, the court accused some journalists of trying to “disrupt peace and stability”, “sow strife and discord among the public”, “create misgivings in the hearts of the people towards institutions and the heads of the Maldivian state”, “bring the three branches of the state into disrepute”, and “create divisions among the Maldivian people”.
“And as it has been noted that some of these writings are of the sort that encourages terrorism, [the court] calls upon all journalists to immediately stop such acts,” reads the brief statement.
Despite the threat of legal action, the constitution and the Judicature Act limit the court’s powers and jurisdiction to the functions of a trial court, which cannot raise charges or initiate criminal proceedings.
It is unclear what prompted the criminal court’s warning.
The statement comes amidst heightened political tension with the opposition vowing to stop the alleged sale of Faafu atoll or parts of it to the Saudi royal family.
A no-confidence motion vote against the speaker of parliament is also due to take place on March 27 with a breakaway faction of the ruling party expressing confidence that President Abdulla Yameen will lose his previously unassailable 50-seat majority.
On Sunday morning, Mihaaru meanwhile published a report about families of victims awaiting justice while defendants accused of serious crimes are detained for years.
The report was critical of the criminal court over stalled trials.
In one case, three men have been detained for the past six years while their murder trial drags on, the newspaper reported, noting that several trials have been stalled after the court concluded proceedings and failed to schedule a sentencing hearing.
Earlier this month, a teenager accused of threatening a ruling party council member was transferred from police custody to house arrest after more than one year elapsed between the first and second hearings of his trial.
The Maldivian media is meanwhile facing unprecedented threats with journalists saying they are forced to practice self-censorship after the widely condemned re-criminalisation of defamation.
The broadcasting regulator slapped hefty fines on Raajje TV earlier this month and three of the opposition-aligned station’s journalists were convicted of obstructing police duty.
The prosecution of the journalists was in stark contrast to the lack of justice for crimes committed against the press, including the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, and the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head.
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”.