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Witnesses testify against Raajje TV arson suspect

The trial of the only suspect charged over the torching of the opposition-aligned Raajje TV in October 2013 resumed Monday afternoon with three policemen testifying for the prosecution.



The trial of the only suspect charged over the torching of the opposition-aligned Raajje TV in October 2013 resumed Monday afternoon with three policemen testifying for the prosecution.

Mohamed Meead, who was among 18 young men arrested in connection with the arson attack, was serving a lengthy jail sentence for drug trafficking when he was charged with terrorism in October 2015.

The trial has been stalled for nearly 11 months with multiple cancellations.

The last hearing took place in September last year with the prosecution submitting a list of four witnesses, a medico-legal report, and video analysis to show that Meead was the one who lit the fire.

Meead, who pleaded not guilty, presented a list of nine witnesses that he claimed would prove he was out of the country at the time.

According to the prosecution, burn marks were found on his neck, arms, and leg. DNA analysis from gloves found near the Raajje TV building was also submitted as evidence.

At Monday’s hearing, Corporal Mohamed Iqbal told the court that he found the glove on the side of the road opposite the Raajje TV building on Malé’s northeastern waterfront.

“I found the glove. But it was not my crime scene. So I brought it to the attention of the others. The glove was picked up and sealed then,” he said.

But Corporal Imad Ahmed, who handled the glove, told the court that a bystander brought it to the attention of the police officers.

Corporal Ahmed Lishan meanwhile described how the security guard at the building was taken to hospital after he was stabbed by the arsonists.

“The first thing we saw was the security guard calling for help. I took him to the hospital in a police vehicle,” Lishan said.

The first police officers on the scene also tried to help a young woman trapped in the top floor of the building.

“I went inside the building twice but I couldn’t even get to the stairs because of thick smoke. She was later rescued by firefighters,” Corporal Imad told the court.

The Raajje TV studio was torched on October 7, 2013, in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election. CCTV footage showed six masked men armed with machetes and iron rods breaking through a reinforced steel grill and a wooden door before dousing the control room and lobby with petrol.

The fire destroyed the station’s offices, control room, computer systems, and broadcasting and transmission equipment, causing damages worth MVR11.6 million (US$752,200).

An Al Jazeera corruption exposé released in September last year meanwhile included new revelations about the arson attack.

Based on evidence gathered from three mobile phones of the jailed former vice president, the ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary showed a conversation between then-Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed.

“Blast it again,” reads a text from Adeeb in August 2014 to the police chief, who suggested that it would be better to “control” the station’s sponsors instead.

An inquiry by a police watchdog meanwhile found that Raajje TV staff had asked for police protection when they learned of the imminent attack. But police officers failed to respond. The now-defunct Police Integrity Commission had recommended pressing criminal charges against two policemen.

Meead was meanwhile sentenced in late 2013 along with alleged drug kingpin Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzak on drug trafficking charges. Citing insufficient evidence, the high court overturned Shafaz’s sentence in 2014.

Shafaz and ruling party MP Ibrahim Shujau were pictured at the Maafushi jail in August 2015, receiving a convict who was pardoned by President Abdulla Yameen after he was sentenced over the same drug bust.

In contrast to the slow pace of the arson trial, three Raajje TV journalists have been tried and found guilty of obstructing police duty. Earlier this year, they became the first journalists to be convicted in the Maldives in more than a decade.

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.

Based on developments during the past year, RSF said the government continues to “persecute the independent media” and that many journalists have been the target of death threats from political parties, criminal gangs and religious extremists.