The Economist accused of defaming Maldives government

The Economist accused of defaming Maldives government
June 09 14:59 2016

The government has reacted furiously to The Economist’s coverage of the new opposition coalition launched in London last week, accusing the UK-based newspaper of “strategically misrepresent[ing] facts on Maldives.”

An article published on Tuesday described President Abdulla Yameen as “increasingly repressive” and suggested that free and fair elections in 2018 “seems an increasingly distant prospect” after political rivals were jailed on “laughable terrorism charges”.

In a strongly worded statement released yesterday, the foreign ministry said the article “would not qualify to be published even in the tabloid media” and accused the paper of furthering the opposition’s agenda of illegally overthrowing the government.

The Economist is “yet another media outlet that has allowed itself to be manipulated, that no longer considers investigation appropriate insofar as journalism is concerned, and is instead content to publish scurrilous rumour and conjecture masquerading as fact,” the foreign ministry said.

The Economist is sold in more than 200 countries. Its circulation exceeds 1.5 million.

Government ministers also visited the paper’s offices in London last February.

The current administration has been dogged by bad press in international media since the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015.

International human rights groups warned then that the political crisis triggered by the jailing of the opposition leaders has put the Maldives at risk of an authoritarian reversal.

The foreign ministry meanwhile went on to deny banning public banners of rival politicians and harassing journalists at the opposition-aligned Raajje TV as alleged in the article.

After seizing powers from the opposition-dominated city council, the housing ministry had imposed rules requiring its permission to put up banners or posters in the capital.

But the foreign ministry said the government is “merely clamping down on acts that could be arguably be seen as ‘flyposting’, not so dissimilar to rules in force in many other nations.”

Despite the denial of harassing “any employee of any media outlet,” some 24 journalists have been arrested since Yameen took office in November 2013 and four Raajje TV journalists are presently on trial.

The government also objected to the headline of The Economist article, which previously stated, ‘Go west, deposed man: The president of the Maldives gets asylum in Britain.’

The headline has since been revised with an addendum explaining that Nasheed is a former president.

The statement also contended that the “continued reference to political prisoners” is false and has been “dismissed by an independent delegation of MPs from the UK Parliament as lacking any credibility.”

Three British MPs had defended the government from criticism over its human rights record during a state-sponsored visit to the Maldives in February.

The MPs’ views were at odds with the international consensus on the Maldives that emerged last year.

Nasheed’s conviction on a terrorism charge was condemned by US Secretary of State John Kerry, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the UN human rights chief and special rapporteurs, the European parliament, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists.

The visit of the British MPs came after Cameron said the UK is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on top Maldivian officials if jailed politicians are not released.

The European parliament also adopted a resolution last December calling on member states to impose travel bans and freeze the assets of government officials.

Pressure has been mounting on Yameen after a UN rights panel ruled in September that Nasheed’s jailing was arbitrary and politically motivated.

The Economist suggested that talk of sanctions “seems to be driving Mr Yameen into the welcoming arms of China and Saudi Arabia,” referring to large-scale infrastructure projects currently underway with financing from the two countries.

The article also cast doubt on Yameen’s “over-ambitious dream of turning the Maldives into a subcontinental Singapore.”

Good governance “eludes Mr Yameen” and the economy is “wobbly and increasingly dependent on Chinese package tourists,” it said.

The foreign ministry meanwhile went on to accuse The Economist of acting in bad faith as it did not seek a response from the government.

The statement concluded by saying that the government “welcomes debate on a range of political issues that are in the public interest, but a disingenuous smear campaign does not constitute professional journalism nor will it be tolerated.”