The civil court has barred all of Haveeru’s journalists from quitting en masse and registering a new paper, pending an outcome in the battle for the Maldives’ oldest newspaper.
The stay order was requested last Thursday by the local daily’s new shareholders, Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem, who argued that the organisation would go bankrupt if staff were allowed to register a new paper.
The three men were granted a controlling share of Haveeru by the High Court last year.
Judge Mohamed Haleem ordered today the newspaper’s founder Dr Zahir Hussain, parent company Haveeru Media Group, and all of the organisation’s employees to “respect employment contracts.
The founder, management and staff were ordered not to “commit any act that could impair Haveeru’s archive, property, news, information, photo, video, money, all its resources, and any other item under Haveeru’s ownership either through lending, selling, sharing, speaking, or through any activity that will yield benefits,” pending a final judgment in the ongoing asset division case.
More than 70 people are employed with Haveeru.
Sources close to Zahir say the lawsuit is a politically motivated attempt to influence Haveeru’s editorial independence.
Zahir’s lawyer had argued against the stay order, saying it would deprive the daily’s staff of their constitutional and legal right to economic activity and employment.
Haveeru, the Maldives’ largest private media organisation, was shut down on April 2 after Haleem ordered the paper to involve the claimants in its management, including in the making of editorial decisions and financial transactions.
The first stay order was issued on March 31 after Farooq, Moosa and Naeem sued Zahir to claim a share of Haveeru’s assets and profits for the past 35 years.
The lawsuit followed a controversial High Court ruling last year that split the paper’s ownership four ways. The appellate court awarded the former editorial staff a controlling stake based on a copy of a 1983 agreement made between the four men to operate the paper.
However, in lieu of involving the new shareholders, the Haveeru Media Group – now owned by the founder’s three children – closed the paper and took its website offline.
The Supreme Court has meanwhile rejected an appeal of the High Court ruling.
Last week, Zahir’s children launched a counter-claim, arguing that their father had transferred the paper’s ownership to the HMG before Farooq, Moosa, and Naeem sued him in 2013.
Zahir – chancellor of the Maldives National University and former education minister – insists he developed the paper with loans taken out in his name and that the claimants had not put up any capital in the venture.
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.
The Haveeru News Agency has no claim to the paper’s assets, they said.
Farooq, Moosa and Naeem launched their claim to the paper in 2013.
The civil court is now going ahead with plans to value the company.
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.
Established in 1979, it became the first media outlet to launch an online version in 1997.
Amidst growing concerns over press freedom in the Maldives, some 183 journalists have signed a petition urging the government to negotiate a solution to Haveeru’s shut down.