The offices of the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, was hit by an arson attack in the early hours of Friday morning, local media report.
The attack was reported at 2:30am. The fire destroyed the daily’s reception area on the ground floor, but security forces doused the flames before they could spread further.
There were no reports of injuries, but the fire shattered the reception area’s glass doors and left furniture damaged beyond use.
Eyewitnesses told several local media outlets that they saw the arsonist flee by scaling the office’s outer walls. A bag and cap, suspected to belong to the arsonist, were found at the scene later.
Police have made no arrests so far and investigations were under way, a police spokesman said.
Haveeru’s offices are not in use as the paper was shut down a month ago over a bitter ownership dispute.
The civil court is now in the process of dividing the paper’s assets after the High Court controversially split its ownership four ways.
The torching of Haveeru’s offices is the latest attack on reporters and media offices in the Maldives. Opposition-aligned Raajje TV‘s offices were burnt to the ground during the 2013 presidential polls. Journalists have suffered murder attempts and knifings, and today marks the 630th since The Maldives Independent‘s reporter Ahmed Rilwan was abducted and disappeared.
While police have assured justice in each case, charges have not been raised against suspects in most cases, and no case has been successfully prosecuted at the courts yet.
Haveeru‘s reporters reacted with shock and defiance to the arson attack.
Ali Nafiz said impunity for the attack on Raajje TV had resulted in a similar attack on Haveeru.
— Ali Naafiz (@naafix) April 29, 2016
“You can attack us. You can kill us. You can loot us. But you can’t kill our idea, vision, motivation & hunger for freedom of press,” said Mohamed Hamdhoon in a Facebook post. “We will uphold Dr. Mohamed Zahir Hussain’s legacy. He is the father of Haveeru. He is the pioneer of modern media in Maldives.”
The High Court ruled last year that Haveeru is not the sole property of its founder Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, and that three others – Abdulla Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem – have an equal share in the enterprise.
The civil court subsequently ordered Zahir to involve the three men in Haveeru’s daily operations, including editorial decisions and financial transactions.
It also issued a ruling last week ordering Haveeru’s staff to “respect employment contracts” after Farooq, Moosa and Naeem filed for a stay order to prevent the papers’ reporters from quitting en masse and registering a new paper. Some 70 people work at Haveeru.
The civil court has now appointed audit firm, Ernst and Young, to value the company.
Sources close to Zahir say the lawsuit is a politically motivated attempt to influence Haveeru’s editorial independence.
The Supreme Court has meanwhile refused to hear an appeal of the High Court ruling.
Photo by Mohamed Sharuhaan