The children of Haveeru Daily’s founder have launched a counterclaim to the Maldives’ oldest newspaper in an ongoing lawsuit filed by three of the paper’s former staff for its ownership.
The Haveeru Media Group, owned by Dr Zahir Hussain’s three children, are urging the civil court to protect their rights, claiming that their father had transferred the paper’s ownership to HMG before its former staff, Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem launched their lawsuit in 2013.
The HMG said on Wednesday: “We are the registered owners of the Haveeru newspaper and its online edition, Haveeru Online. Dr Zahir Hussain has no stake in the Haveeru Media Group Pvt Ltd.
“We will do all in our power to protect the rights and interests of Haveeru Media Group.”
The lawsuit follows a controversial High Court ruling last year that split the paper’s ownership four ways based on a copy of an 1983 agreement made between the four men to operate the paper.
The ruling cleared the way for Farooq, Moosa and Naeem to sue Zahir – chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives and former education minister – at the civil court to claim a share of Haveeru’s assets and profits for the past 35 years.
The civil court issued a ruling on March 31, ordering the paper to involve its new shareholders in its management, including in the making of editorial decisions and financial transactions.
The Haveeru Media Group subsequently closed the paper.
The Supreme Court has meanwhile rejected an appeal filed against the High Court ruling.
The battle for Haveeru, however, remains complicated. Zahir claims he had developed the paper with loans taken out in his name, and argued the other three had not put up any capital in the venture.
Zahir’s lawyers on Thursday asked for details of the three men’s financial contributions to the paper, to which Judge Mohamed Haleem said he would appoint an auditor to value the company.
Lawyers representing Zahir maintain that the 1983 agreement Farooq, Moosa and Naeem had based their claim on had been annulled in 1985. The agreement was made to set up an agency to disseminate news and operate the paper, and was dissolved in 1985 following a dispute.
Haveeru was established in 1979, and has the highest circulation of any local newspaper. It became the first media outlet to launch an online version in 1997.
During former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year rule, Haveeru was decidedly pro-government, but has become increasingly independent in its coverage since 2008.
Some 183 journalists had signed a petition last Sunday urging the government to negotiate a solution to Haveeru’s shut down. The petition comes amidst growing concerns over press freedom in the Maldives.
Some 18 journalists were arrested on April 3 from a sit-in protest prompted by the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the closure of Haveeru and the appointment of President Abdulla Yameen’s campaign workers to the broadcasting regulator.