Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, the chief operating officer of the opposition-aligned Raajje TV, has been found not guilty on a charge of assaulting a police officer while covering a bomb scare in November 2015.
The veteran journalist was accused of hitting Corporal Mohamed Shaheen during his arrest for refusing to leave the sports complex area of Malé where the military’s bomb disposal experts were defusing an improvised explosive device.
Fiyaz was facing a jail term of more than a month if convicted.
In January, Raajje TV journalists Mohamed Wisam and Leevan Ali Nasir, who were arrested along with Fiyaz, were handed a fine of US$1,868 each for obstruction of police duty. The pair became the first journalists to be convicted in more than a decade.
Wisam and Leevan were accused of trying to prevent Fiyaz’s arrest. All three had later alleged abuse in police custody.
Delivering the verdict Sunday afternoon, Judge Adam Arif, the acting chief judge of the criminal court, ruled that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Three policemen – including Corporal Shaheen – had told the court that Fiyaz had refused to leave the area despite repeated warnings. They also claimed to have seen Fiyaz shoving Shaheen.
But Wisam, Leevan, and their colleague Murshid Abdul Hakeem testified that Fiyaz had heeded orders from policemen to leave the restricted area.
“I saw one police officer, who I now know to be Shaheen, shove Fiyaz on the chest, pin him to a nearby wall and grab his neck,” Wisam had said in his testimony.
Despite the prosecution questioning the credibility of the three defence witnesses, who were all colleagues of Fiyaz at Raajje TV, the judge noted that they were eyewitnesses and that the station had reported Fiyaz’s arrest and alleged mistreatment during its live coverage.
The state has a responsibility to promote press freedom, the judge said.
Earlier this year, 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.
In February, Raajje TV cameraman Adam Zareer was found guilty of obstruction and handed a fine of US$195. He was arrested during the station’s coverage of an opposition protest in March 2015
The broadcasting regulator has since taken action against Raajje TV under the controversial 2016 anti-defamation law, including imposing a fine of MVR1 million (US$64,850) for airing a speech that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.
Only one suspect was meanwhile charged over the torching of the Raajje TV studios in October 2013 after 18 young men were arrested. The trial resumed earlier this month after being stalled for nearly 11 months with multiple cancellations.
The Maldives is now ranked 117 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders annual press freedom index, down from 112 the previous year.