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Maldives police deny obstructing press freedom

At a midnight press conference, the police said it “regrets” accusations of “obstructing media” following a raid on Sangu TV offices. Assistant Commissioner Nawaz said police officers have “not committed any act to date that could obstruct press freedom”.



A raid on privately-owned Sangu TV, which caused public outcry, was conducted based on evidence that a “threatening video message” was uploaded to YouTube from the station’s office, Assistant Commissioner Abdulla Nawaz said last night.

At a midnight press conference, Nawaz said the police “regrets” accusations of “obstructing media”.

Police officers have “not committed any act to date that could obstruct press freedom,” he said.

The police had confiscated all of Sangu TV’s hard disks on Thursday night, forcing the station to cease live transmission.

The raid, carried out a day after President Yameen declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency, sparked criticism, with Reporters Without Borders urging the government not to gag the media.

“It’s hard for us to say now that only independent journalism is taking place inside Sangu TV,” Nawaz said, adding that an independent media outlet should not be “a crime den.”

In a testy exchange with a Sangu TV reporter, Nawaz conceded that the court warrant authorising the search and seizure operation had the wrong address.

“Rather than asking about the warrant, I think it is better to consider the fact a state of emergency has been declared. It is very clear the police can enter any residence without a court warrant,” he said.

He also refused to answer why police officers ordered the station’s staff to stop live transmission.

Sangu TV’s lawyer was not allowed inside the office while the raid was ongoing as police were processing “a crime scene.”

Asked why the police took 27 hard disks if the IP address has been traced to a single computer, Nawaz said the police officers were gathering evidence “for analysis” and have taken all items necessary for the investigation.

Sangu TV’s broadcasting equipment will be returned as soon as police forensic teams complete processing evidence, he said.

The police will not undermine press freedom, Nawaz said, but measures will be taken against individuals who “obstruct police duty” and disobey orders.

Nawaz said the video was uploaded on May 9, and that the police have traced it to an IP address at Sangu TV.

“In the video, death threats were made against former Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed, the president of the Maldives, and then-Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and threats were made to cause damage to Maldivian industry and tourism.”

Asked why it took the police so many months for the investigation, he said: “The investigation time period for each case is different… it takes a lot of time in major cases.”

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry had said yesterday that Sangu TV was raided over another video uploaded on August 31 showing three masked men with guns threatening to kill the president and vice president. The video had the militant organisation Islamic State’s (IS) logo.

The May 9 video, however, 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.

Imran was under arrest on charges of inciting violence at a mass anti-government rally on May 1.

Both videos have since been removed from YouTube.

Sangu TV was launched on April 30. Ruling party MP Yameen Rasheed, a close associate of impeached Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, is a shareholder of the Dhivehi Media Group company that operates the TV station.

Adeeb is in custody on suspicion of links to a blast on the president’s speedboat on September 28. The government insists a bomb targeting Yameen caused the explosion.

International human rights groups, the US and UK, the Commonwealth and EU have meanwhile questioned the government’s justification for declaring a state of emergency, and urged it restore constitutional rights.

Yameen, citing threats to national security and raising fears of imminent attacks, had issued a decree granting police sweeping powers to arrest suspects and conduct raids.

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.

The opposition-aligned station Raajje TV suspended coverage of current affairs following the brief detention of a fourth journalist yesterday.

The move followed a warning from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission to revoke licenses of any station that airs content deemed to endanger national security.