The privately-owned Sangu TV resumed regular broadcast last night after a police raid in the early hours of Friday forced the station to cease live transmission.
The police said the TV station was raided based on evidence that a “threatening video message” was uploaded to YouTube from its office. Sangu TV was forced off-air after the police confiscated all of the station’s hard disks.
Ibrahim Waheed ‘Asward,’ Sangu TV’s managing director, told The Maldives Independent today that the police have not returned the broadcasting equipment. The station used personal laptops and computers from its staff to resume broadcasting at 8:00pm last night.
“We received three hard disks from individual as well. But even now the visual and audio quality of our content is lower than what we transmitted before,” he said.
Asward said the police have assured the Maldives Media Council that the confiscated equipment will be returned as soon as possible.
“This station is empty, all the hard drives on all the systems, computers, laptops, live coverage equipment and even wifi routers were taken,” he said.
The Sangu TV raid came a day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 30-day state of emergency and gave police sweeping powers to arrest suspects and carry out raids without court warrants. Yameen cited security threats posed by missing weapons and explosives.
Fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of assembly have been suspended, but the constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of press and speech in a state of emergency.
Shortly after the unprecedented state of emergency was declared on Wednesday, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) urged media outlets to ensure that its reports do not encourage unrest.
The media regulatory body threatened to suspend broadcasting licenses if private TV stations air content deemed to pose a threat to national security.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement released yesterday with its local affiliate, the Maldives Journalist Association, the International Federal of Journalists (IFJ) expressed “serious concern over the state of press freedom following the declaration of a state of emergency”.
“The IFJ is deeply concerned regarding the state of media freedom in the Maldives following the declaration of the state of emergency. The subsequent attacks on media houses and press freedom have raised grave concerns for the government’s support for press freedom in the Maldives. The current situation facing the country’s media is creating an environment impossible to exercise the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression,” the international press freedom organisation said.
“We urge the Maldivian government to immediately guarantee press freedom and freedom of expression across the country and ensure the country’s media are free to report with fear of attack or retribution.”
Asward meanwhile expressed concern with the lack of “solidarity” among the Maldivian media.
“Today it is our station that was raided, who will it be tomorrow?” he asked.
“Before we used to hear of gangs torching stations but now we hear security forces conducting raids into stations. I would like to note that we are willing to fully cooperate with the police’s investigation. However, I am sure that none of our staff nor this TV would have committed an act of terrorism. We also hope that it will be a quick investigation.”
Reporters Without Borders had also expressed concern in the wake of the Sangu TV raid, urging the government not to gag broadcast and online media.
The opposition-aligned station Raajje TV had also suspended current affairs coverage on Friday night over inability to “report without fear” during the state of emergency.
Despite unsuccessfully seeking assurances from the authorities, Raajje TV resumed coverage of political affairs on Sunday night.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesperson, said on Saturday that the government “will not obstruct any media” and “will always welcome criticism.”
Assistant Commissioner Abdulla Nawaz also told the press on Friday night that police officers have “not committed any act to date that could obstruct press freedom.”
Nawaz said Sangu TV was raided after police traced the threatening video to an IP address at the station’s office.
“It’s hard for us to say now that only independent journalism is taking place inside Sangu TV,” he said, adding that an independent media outlet should not be “a crime den.”
Nawaz said the video was uploaded on May 9. It showed a masked man threatening to kill the police chief, tourism minister, and judges if Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla is “unjustly” convicted and jailed.