A Maldivian who assisted a German TV crew who were deported last week while filming for a story on Islamic extremism was summoned to the police headquarters in Malé over allegations of economic sabotage.
The four-member crew from Germany’s ARD TV, the world’s second largest broadcaster, was deported on a charge of violating immigration laws. The crew, who have denied the charge, was subsequently accused of defaming the Maldives with a false report on Islamic extremism.
Home Minister Umar Naseer has now pledged to prosecute all Maldivians who assisted the ARD crew.
Thayyib Shameem, the crew’s local fixer, said he was summoned at 11:30am on Sunday.
“The police asked me questions regarding the work by ARD. I answered all the questions including, if I was aware that the crew was focusing on militant links,” he said.
He denied the government’s claim and said that the government’s actions reflected its attitude towards reporters.
Naseer meanwhile claimed the police’s intelligence department had learned that ARD reporters were planning to bribe Maldivians into saying they supported the Islamic State on camera.
“No TV or radio channel can operate on Maldivian soil that way and if Maldivians had participated in it, they will be punished,” he warned, adding that regardless of the size and audience of a channel, the Maldivian government will halt “attempts at defamation.”
Germany is an important market for the Maldives, accounting for nearly a tenth of total tourist arrivals each year. Maldives is to co-host the tourism and trade fair ITB Berlin next March.
ARD’s work in the Maldives has sparked heated debate, with popular daily Haveeru publishing an editorial accusing Western media of conspiring to undermine the Maldivian economy.
“It is now known that the German broadcaster was attempting to falsely portray the situation of extremism in the Maldives, despite the fact the issue is no where near dire as it used to be,” the editorial said.
“The documentary contains misinformation, and its attempts to portray the Maldives as radicalized violates the ethics of journalism.”
Haveeru claimed that there was no threat to Maldivians from extremism, and said ARD had exaggerated the figure of Maldivians who had traveled to Syria. ARD had also pointed to a sign banning bikinis at Malé’s swim area as a sign of radicalization, the editorial said.
Naseer subsequently told local media there were only 79 Maldivians living in the Middle East, and that only 20 of them were fighters. The rest were the militants’ family members, he said.
Naseer’s statements contradict the figure provided by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon in October. She had told the foreign press that 100 Maldivians were fighting in the Middle East. Before that, ex police chief Hussein Waheed in January said some 50 Maldivians had travelled to Iraq and Syria.
Civil society groups and diplomats have expressed concern over rising extremism in the Maldives. At least eight Maldivian fighters have been killed in battle so far. Local media reports suggest a steady outflow of would-be Jihadis, including entire families and members of Malé’s criminal gangs.
Security experts say the Maldives is more of a recruiting ground for extremists, and say that the risk of domestic terrorism is low. However, contrary to Haveeru’s claim, several life-threatening attacks have been carried out on individuals perceived to be liberal.
In 2012, blogger Hillath Rasheed’s throat was slashed. Doctor’s called his survival a miracle. Hillath claims Islamic Ministry officials were involved in the attack.
Later in the same year, moderate scholar and MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was killed, after months of receiving threats for his moderate views. The government claims the murder was politically motivated, but have failed to identify the masterminds. Opposition members and Home Minister Naseer himself have alleged President Abdulla Yameen was involved in the murder.
Naseer has also acknowledged the involvement of radicalised gangs in the disappearance of this paper’s journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who went missing 500 days ago.
The government has passed a new anti-terror law that metes out a jail term of up to 20 years for attempting to leave the country to fight in a foreign war. However, a policy on countering the spread of extremist ideologies has not been made public yet.
Meanwhile, tourism minister Moosa Zameer told the media yesterday that ARD’s coverage of radicalisation in Maldives would affect the bookings for January and February.
Sanjay Kumar, an Indian producer working for ARD, vehemently denied allegations of defaming the Maldives.
“If you look at our past record, you would see that we have done programs on the beauty of Maldives and how it is a progressive tourist destination. Even in 2013 we visited Maldives and took footage in many islands and resorts,” he said.
He said that the crew had been in the Maldives to film for a range of stories, including climate change, guesthouse tourism, radicalization, and the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The ARD crew was arrested from the island of Himandhoo in Alif Alif Atoll last week and have now been barred from entering the Maldives for 10 years. The crew’s expulsion has sparked outrage among German journalists, too.
The government claims journalists cannot film on a tourist visa, but the crew said it had received a permit from the National Centre for the Arts. The permit published on social media did restrict filming to select locations in Malé. The ARD crew also said they had contacted the Maldivian High Commission in Delhi before their arrival, and were told they could enter on a tourist visa.
Trailer for ARD’s report: