Trial of journalist charged with assault resumes

Trial of journalist charged with assault resumes
January 30 13:08 2017

The trial of a journalist who was charged with assaulting a policeman resumed Sunday after a seven-month hiatus.

Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, Raajje TV’s chief operating officer who has denied the charge, said the long gap had led him to believe that the charges were dropped.

The veteran journalist could face a jail sentence of more than a month if found guilty

The misdemeanour charge relates to Fiyaz’s arrest during the opposition-aligned station’s coverage of a police attempt to defuse a bomb in November 2015.

Two others who were arrested with him, Mohamed Wisam and Leevaan Ali Nasir, were handed a fine of US$1,868 each for obstruction: The judge said the pair had attempted to prevent Fiyaz’s arrest. It was the first sentence handed down to journalists in more than a decade.

All three later alleged abuse in police custody.

Prosecutors claimed Fiyaz hit Corporal Mohamed Shaheen when the policeman attempted to arrest him for refusing to leave the restricted area.

The case rested on the testimony of three policemen, which included Shaheen and two others who claimed they saw the alleged assault from a few feet away.

Prosecutors meanwhile asked the judge to forgo defence testimony claiming the policemen’s testimony proved the charges.

Judge Adam Arif, however, agreed call three of the seven defence witnesses, but declined to accept a medical report that the defence counsel said proved it was the police who had in fact assaulted Fiyaz, as well as footage of Raajje TV’s coverage of the bomb scare.

The prosecution’s chief witness was the alleged victim.

Testifying on Sunday, Shaheen said he placed his hand on Fiyaz back to escort him out, but Fiyaz allegedly said: “I won’t go. You’ll have to carry me out.” The policeman said he warned the journalist that he would be arrested and Fiyaz used placed his right hand on Shaheen’s chest and shoved him away.

“He hit my chest with considerable force. I felt pain in my chest,” the policeman told the court. Policemen Hussain Abdulla and Ali Saraau backed his testimony.

The defence will call its witnesses at the next hearing on Thursday.

They are Wisam, Leevaan and a third Raajje TV journalist, Murshid Abdul Hakeem.

The defence counsel also asked the court to summon four other journalists who they said had witnessed the incident. The judge said he will make a decision on accepting the four at Thursday’s hearing.

The last hearing in Fiyaz’s case took place in June.

Defence counsel Aishath Fareesha said she had written a letter to the criminal court in October asking for clarification on the delay, but only heard back earlier this month.

Wisam is meanwhile on trial on a second count of obstruction over his arrest while covering a March 2015 protest. Raajje TV cameraman Adam Zareer who was arrested alongside him was also charged with obstruction.

Wisam’s second case is on going while a verdict in Zareer’s case is expected on February 27.

Raajje TV has previously said that the charges brought against all four are “baseless in its entirety.”

They “can only be justified 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’s independent broadcasts,” the station said.

New York based press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has urged the Maldivian authorities to drop the charges against Raajje TV’s journalists, and said the Maldivian authorities have singled out the station for harassment.

The prosecution of the four journalists stand in stark contrast to the lack of justice for crimes committed against the press, including the disappearance of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head, Asward Ibrahim Waheed, and the mass death threats sent via text messages to journalists.