Raajje TV journalist Mohamed Wisam has been found not guilty of obstructing police officers during an anti-government protest in 2015.
Delivering a verdict on Tuesday, Judge Ahmed Shakeel said the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient.
“This is a joke,” Wisam told the Maldives Independent. “This arrest happened in 2015. I have been dragged around since and today I am told I am not guilty. This is nothing but intimidation and harassment.”
The 22-year-old journalist said he had been expecting a prison sentence as he had been found guilty in January on a separate count of obstructing police and handed a fine of US$1,868. His colleague, Leevaan Ali Nasir was also convicted and handed the same fine.
The second charge stemmed from Wisam’s arrest near the restricted Republic Square area of Malé during the station’s coverage of an opposition protest on March 25, 2015.
Contrary to the prosecution’s claim that Wisam obstructed police officers and scaled barricades, the judge said the video showed Wisam being arrested and noted that other journalists were also covering the protest.
The presence of the journalists does not amount to obstruction of police officers, he said.
However, the same video was used to convict Raajje TV cameraman Adam Zareer last month, Raajje TV said. He was found guilty of obstruction and handed a fine of US$195.
“We have always maintained that all of our journalists are innocent,” said the station’s chief operating officer, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, who is also on trial on a charge of assaulting a police officer in November 2015. He faces a jail term of more than a month if found guilty.
“These charges are trumped up and baseless. Wisam was found not guilty because the prosecution’s video evidence was deemed compromised. Yet this same video was used to convict Zareer.
“What today’s verdict proves beyond doubt is the previous convictions hold no legal authority. We have appealed all guilty verdicts and are awaiting justice.”
Raajje TV previously condemned the charges brought against all four of its journalists 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’sindependent broadcasts.”
In January, New York-based press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, urged the Maldivian authorities to drop the charges against the journalists, accusing the government of singling out the station for harassment.
Earlier this month, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission slapped an MVR200,000 (US$13,000) fine on Raajje TV in the first punitive action taken under the controversial 2016 defamation law.
The prosecution of the Raajje TV journalists is in stark contrast to the lack of justice for 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”.