The criminal court has warned of action “to end extreme attacks on people’s good name, honour and dignity” after its chief judge was criticised over a decision to bar journalists from hearings.
Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf, who heads the criminal court, provoked ridicule this week when three newspapers – Haveeru, Avas and V News – were banned indefinitely after their reporters photographed the judge standing outside the courthouse.
A footballer was also arrested last week for taking a photo of the same judge.
A challenge was subsequently declared on social media asking users to submit photos of Bari, who is under fire for his involvement in the controversial jailing of four opposition politicians.
“A national competition to take photos of Bari. Let’s take photos of Bari. I will take a photo too,” read one tweet.
— Naseer (@DeNaseer) March 1, 2016
In a statement on Wednesday, the court said that while the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, assembly and association, it also protects the state’s sovereignty, development, and the people’s good name and right to stable and orderly lives.
“Protecting the people’s reputation is one of the five aims of Islam, and since the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, and since Islam is the only religion followed by Maldivians, Maldivians must not violate the above-mentioned aims,” the statement said, as justifications for action against slander.
The Maldives Media Council, which regulates print and online papers, has labeled the court’s actions as intimidation and obstruction of press freedom. The MMC on Tuesday sent a letter asking the court to specify reasons for the journalist’s suspension.
A court official told the MMC that the suspension was a result of disciplinary complaints, but did not clarify the nature of the complaints, the letter noted.
“ .. this council also notes that the court has not summoned journalists from the three outlets to warn or advise them,” the MMC said.
The council also requested the court for its standard operating procedures on taking such action and the chance to discuss the matter with a court official.
Journalists from the state broadcaster Public Service Media, CNM and Raajje TV have also been suspended from hearings previously on a variety of charges.
Court officials have regularly reprimanded reporters for “unfair coverage” of trials involving leading politicians.
Bari had sentenced Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla to 12 years in jail on a terrorism charge in mid-February, and was part of a three-judge panel that had sentenced former President Mohamed Nasheed to 13 years in a widely criticized trial last year.
The same three-judge panel had also sentenced former defence ministers Mohamed Nazim and Tholhath Ibrahim to 11 years and 10 years in jail, respectively.
Two of the judges were subsequently promoted to the appellate High Court, and Bari was awarded a discounted luxury flat. He was also appointed as the criminal court’s acting chief judge after his predecessor was transferred to the family court.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed