The Maldives Broadcasting Commission has expressed concern over charges filed against three journalists from the opposition-aligned Raajje TV, but stopped short of condemning the unprecedented criminal prosecution of journalists.
The MBC said in a statement today that it learned of the charges through media reports and expressed concern in its capacity “as the guardian of broadcasters.”
The media oversight body then urged broadcasters to abide by the broadcasting law, the code of practice, and broadcasting guidelines. The commission also appealed for all state institutions to ensure “the freedom of the press guaranteed by the constitution.”
Raajje TV journalists Mohamed Wisam and Leevan Ali Naseer are facing trial on charges of obstructing law enforcement officers during an anti-government protest on March 25 last year.
A first hearing has been scheduled for Thursday. If convicted, the journalists could face a jail sentence of between four months to one year.
The station’s chief operating officer, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, has meanwhile been charged with assaulting a police officer in November.
The three Raajje TV staff would become the first journalists to stand trial since the Maldives adopted a new democratic constitution in August 2008.
In 2014, the Prosecutor General’s office had filed charges of obstructing police duty against CNM reporter Abdulla Haseen, who was also arrested from a protest. But the charges were later dropped.
The withdrawal of charges against 24 journalists arrested since President Abdulla Yameen assumed power in November 2013 is among nine demands outlined in a petition submitted yesterday to the President’s Office, the People’s Majlis and the Supreme Court.
Signed by some 183 Maldivian journalists, the petition urged the authorities to tackle threats to press freedom, including the withdrawal of a bill criminalising defamation and ending impunity for crimes committed against the press.
The petition is part of a campaign launched by the Maldivian media following the arrest of some 18 journalists last Sunday from a sit-in protest, which was prompted by the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the court-ordered shutdown of the country’s oldest newspaper, and the criminal court’s ban of reporters from four outlets.
The journalists were also protesting against the appointment of President Abdulla Yameen’s campaign workers to the broadcasting regulator.
Yameen’s administration has been accused of using the ruling coalition’s majority in parliament to stack independent institutions with loyalists and party activists.
Six new members sworn-in to the MBC last week included Fathmath Zaina and Zeena Zahir, two former journalists who were working under First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at the president’s re-election campaign office.
A group of journalists had staged a silent protest outside the People’s Majlis while voting on the MBC nominees took place last Monday, expressing concern that opposition-aligned TV and radio stations will be unfairly targeted by the newly appointed members.
In February, the commission ordered Raajje TV not to air a documentary about a Sri Lankan man who allegedly performed sorcery or black magic to help Yameen win the 2013 election.
The MBC also came under fire during last November’s short-lived state of emergency after threatening to revoke the licenses of TV stations that air content deemed to pose a threat to national security.
The MBC’s mandate involves regulating and developing the broadcasting sector in the Maldives, investigating content-related complaints, and issuing broadcasting licenses.
Formed under the Broadcasting Act of 2010, the commission commenced work on April 4, 2011.