Maldives police arrest journalist at opposition-aligned TV station

Maldives police arrest journalist at opposition-aligned TV station
February 13 15:01 2016

A sports journalist at the opposition-aligned Raajje TV was arrested this afternoon after police officers allegedly entered the private station’s office in Malé without a court warrant.

Hussain Fariyaz was arrested around 1:00pm and released about two hours later.

Raajje TV CEO Hussain Fiyaz Moosa told The Maldives Independent that the station’s sports editor was arrested for taking a photograph of a police officer carrying out an alcohol bottle during a raid.

“A group of men claiming to be police, without any official documentation legalising their entry into the station, barged in and snatched Fariyaz,” he said.

Fiyaz added that Fariyaz’s “abductors” obstructed Raajje TV staff inside the newsroom from taking pictures of the arrest.

But the police said in a statement that Fariyaz had tried to “flee” from officers at the crime scene when he was asked to show a media pass. He was arrested for “disobeying orders.”

“Police did not go inside the Raajje TV station to take him into custody,” it added.

The police also denied that officers used obscene language or “disproportionate force.”

Raajje TV has published a photo showing Fariyaz being manhandled and bundled into a police vehicle by plain-clothes officers. His shirt was ripped open.

According to Raajje TV, police officers at the Atholhuvehi detention centre told Fariyaz he was arrested “by mistake”.

They also urged him not to “politicise” the incident, Fariyaz said after his release.

Fariyaz said he told the policemen in plainclothes that his media pass was at the office as he was on his way back from the mosque.

He said the officers were verbally abusive upon learning that he works at Raajje TV and demanded that he delete the photos. But Fariyaz said he refused and told the officers he would get his media pass from the nearby office.

Two policemen then grabbed him by the neck and hauled him into the van, Fariyaz said on Raajje TV.

He also accused the police officers of assaulting him inside the van, threatening to jail him for life, and harassing him by taking photographs, which one of them threatened to “put on all Viber groups and Facebook.”

Raajje TV has submitted complaints to the media regulatory bodies as well as the human rights watchdog.

The arrest came shortly after Raajje TV announced that main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Chairperson Ali Waheed will appear on a special programme tonight with revelations about the first couple’s alleged involvement in the Maldives’ biggest corruption scandal.

Waheed – who is currently living in self-imposed exile in the UK – challenged Yameen last week to dispute evidence showing US$500,000 was deposited to his bank account at the Maldives Islamic Bank by a company implicated in the embezzlement of US$70 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company.

Raajje TV had also stirred a social media storm with an explosive documentary aired on February 5 about a Sri Lankan “sorcerer” allegedly employed by President Abdulla Yameen during the 2013 presidential election campaign.

Last week, the broadcasting regulator ordered the TV station not to air the documentary or any related content pending an investigation into a complaint.

The exposé featured an exclusive interview with Asela Wikramasinghe – a Sri Lankan “priest” who owns a temple for the worship of the Hindu god Durga – as well as secretly recorded conversations he had with Yameen about eliminating rivals from the presidential race.

In November last year, Raajje TV suspended current affairs coverage following the brief detention of a fourth journalist and warnings from the the media regulatory body of revoking the licenses of stations that air content deemed to endanger national security.

In February 2013, Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October that year.

Two years after the arson attack, only one of 18 suspects was charged.

The Maldives has plummeted on the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index during the past four years. In 2014, numerous death threats were sent to journalists, journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared, and a machete was buried at the door of the The Maldives Independent office.

While police assured thorough investigations in each case, charges have not been raised against any suspects to date.