Journalists will not be charged over president’s office protest

Journalists will not be charged over president’s office protest
May 09 19:52 2016

The police have declined to press charges against 17 journalists arrested from a peaceful sit-in protest at the president’s office on April 3.

A police spokesman said: “The cases have not been sent for prosecution, and all of the individuals who were arrested have been summoned to the police station and issued an official warning, advising them to comply with laws and regulations.”

All 17 journalists and a bystander, who was also arrested from the protest, were summoned to the police headquarters Sunday and advised to exercise their right to free speech and assembly within the limits of the law.

The 17 were held for some 12 hours on charges of resisting or obstructing law enforcement officers.

Along with 50 others from various outlets, the journalists were protesting against court-ordered closure of Haveerua proposed law for criminalising defamation, the protracted investigation into the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the criminal court’s ban of reporters from four outlets, and President Abdulla Yameen’s nomination of campaign workers to the broadcasting regulator.

Shortly after they sat down, a group of soldiers in riot gear cleared members of the public from the area, and riot police moved in to drag them away from the president’s office, a restricted zone.

Pepper spray was used at close range and some reporters were manhandled and shoved to the ground as police pushed the protesters back.

Three journalists required medical treatment.

The 17 arrested included five from The Maldives Independent, six from Haveeru, two from Sangu TV, two from Raajje TV, and one from Villa TV.

The Maldives has plummeted on the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index during the past five years.

Three journalists from Raajje TV are currently standing trial on charges of obstructing police officers, while a fourth is being prosecuted on charges of assaulting a policeman.

However, no one has been convicted to date over the near-fatal beating of former Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in February 2013, or the arson attack that destroyed the station’s office in October that year.

Charges were also never filed against a man who vandalised The Maldives Independent’s security cameras last year. The alleged gang leader was released by the criminal court despite video footage showing him stealing a CCTV camera.

In its 2016 press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders said that the Maldives remains “very hostile for independent and opposition media” since the February 2012 “coup d’état.”

The police meanwhile blocked a silent march staged by journalists on April 8.