Regulator bans Raajje TV report on Afrasheem murder cover-up

Regulator bans Raajje TV report on Afrasheem murder cover-up
July 23 13:11 2016

The broadcasting regulator has ordered the opposition-aligned Raajje TV not to air a news report featuring a young man who claims police offered him MVR500,000 (US$32,509) to frame a suspect in the high-profile murder of a parliamentarian.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission ordered Raajje TV not to show the content again pending the outcome of a complaint.

The complainant said the private station failed to bring both sides of the story and violated the broadcasting code of practice, which also requires stations to report the truth fairly and without bias, the oversight body said in a letter.

Raajje TV aired the report on an alleged cover-up of Dr Afrasheem Ali’s brutal murder in October 2012 during its prime time ’60 Minutes’ programme on Monday night.

The MBC order came on the following day. The station was asked to respond to the complaint before 2pm on August 1.

Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, Raajje TV’s chief operating officer, accused the regulator of obstructing press freedom.

“This is a part of a series of obstructions the press has to face today. If we are being unethical, the commission should be explaining the ethics to us, not constantly taking action against us,” he said.

In February, the commission banned a Raajje TV documentary about a Sri Lankan man who allegedly performed sorcery or black magic to help President Abdulla Yameen win the 2013 election.

Last week’s report was based on an interview with Ahmed Anaan Waheed, who claimed that the police offered him money to testify in court against Hussain Humam Ahmed, the only person convicted on the murder of the moderate religious scholar.

During the investigation in late 2012, the police had offered MVR500,000 to anyone who comes forward with substantial information on the case.

Anaan was also arrested in connection with the murder while he was a minor. He was later jailed for eight months by the juvenile court on a charge of giving false testimony.

In the interview, Anaan said the police assured him that the then-chief judge of the criminal court, Abdulla Mohamed, would release him if he confessed to being an accomplice.

Staff Sergeant Mohamed Sameeh repeatedly urged him to testify that Humam and Ali Shan ‘Sato’ killed the lawmaker on the night of October 1, 2012, he alleged.

He also claimed that the police covered his face and tortured him when he refused to testify. According to Anaan, after his arrest the police first police took him to Bandos Island Resort and offered him food, drinks and cigarettes.

Hussain Humam Ahmed, 22, is facing the death penalty after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction last month.

It marked the first death sentence passed by the apex court since the government ended a six-decade moratorium on capital punishment in 2014.

Humam is the only person convicted of Afrasheem’s murder so far despite police saying it was premeditated and politically motivated.

A second suspect charged with murder, Ali Shan, was acquitted in September 2014 with the court citing insufficient evidence.

Shan was implicated in Humam’s confession, but the judge said several witnesses had testified that he was at a restaurant at the time the murder took place.

A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said planned the murder, meanwhile left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January 2015.

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee requested the government to halt Humam’s imminent execution after his father and lawyer petitioned the committee alleging violations of the right to a fair trial as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The verdict was based on a pre-trial confession that Humam later retracted. He claimed the confession was obtained under duress. The courts have also rejected requests for an independent psychiatric evaluation despite claims that Humam has a psycho-social or intellectual disability.

The reconstituted broadcasting commission has meanwhile been accused of double standards over contrasting rulings issued after investigating similar complaints.

While Raajje TV was ordered to apologise for a second time for the documentary about the Sri Lankan sorcerer, the regulator decided that remarks made by a ruling party MP in an appearance on the government-aligned Channel 13 did not violate the code of practice.

MP Abdulla Rifau alleged during a talk show on May 1 that former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power by “promising drugs and alcohol to the country’s youth.”

After investigating a complaint filed over the remarks, the commission said, “such phrases could be used to reveal how something happened with reference to a court verdict.”

But the opposition leader was never charged with offering drugs and alcohol to young people.

In late April, the MBC also ordered Raajje TV to stop live broadcasts of its popular talk show following a complaint regarding corruption allegations levelled at President Abdulla Yameen by an opposition politician in exile.

The MBC’s controversial decisions come after the appointment of Fathmath Zaina and Zeena Zahir to the seven-member oversight body last April. Both former journalists were working under First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at the president’s re-election campaign office.