The opposition has condemned a campaign launched by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration to discredit an upcoming corruption exposé by Al Jazeera as “desperate moves by a government on the defensive.”
“A single documentary by Al Jazeera has thrown Yameen’s government to a sweat. It looks like all hell has broken loose for Yameen,” said MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, a spokesman for the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.
The film by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, ‘Stealing Paradise,’ claims to feature Yameen’s alleged abuses of power and corruption. It is expected to be aired on Wednesday.
As anticipation mounted, ministers and MPs rushed to Yameen’s defence, claiming Al Jazeera was bribed by the opposition to produce the film, one the state broadcaster has described as a plot to damage the Maldivian economy.
One minister even claimed the film was an attempt to topple Yameen, while another said it was produced by “people who work in Al Jazeera’s kitchen.”
Will Jordan, the film’s producer, and a former editor at the Maldives Independent, has been called an opposition activist, and has been threatened with death on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer has announced that the government has hired several public relations firms to counter the “lies being spread by international media.”
“The opposition is using the international media to spread misinformation about the Maldives to tarnish our reputation. Al Jazeera‘s journalists were bribed by the opposition to produce this ‘Stealing Paradise’,” Zameer said Monday in his opening remarks at a trade fair in Malé. “We have appointed PR firms in several regions to fight against such lies.”
The government in June had hired seven public relations firms in China, Germany, the United Kingdom, India, France, South Korea and the United States.
The American firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, was employed for US$55,000 per month for six months to provide “counsel on all public policy issues related to the United States Congress and the administration.”
Fahmy, the opposition spokesman, labeled the hire of lobby firms as misuse of public funds. He added: “Despite the use of PR firms, at the expense of taxpayers, Yameen’s government has been losing ground.
“The government may use all of it’s resources, public relations firms, and nightly television shows to whitewash all of its atrocities and corruption. But it’s only an attempt at squaring the circle.”
Al Jazeera’s announcement of the film coincided with a BBC report of a plot to remove Yameen, triggering the government’s media offensive and threats of legal action against the film’s Maldivian contributors.
The campaign has also whipped up nationalistic and religious fervour, with preachers urging Maldivians to be wary of attacks by colonial powers. One ruling party MP also claimed foreign journalists favoured the opposition because of a shared anti-Islamic agenda.
In addition to hosting nightly talk shows with ministers and ruling-party lawmakers, the state broadcaster, Public Service Media, also aired Saturday an interview with a firebrand cleric is currently on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
“We are not permitted to get help from India, Sri Lanka, USA and other countries from Europe – to get help from the enemies of Islam – and have them as our backup and follow their instructions to topple the government. What is going on is that some people want our country to be taken over by non-Muslims.. So these people are trying to make that happen. Which is why non-Muslims are so interested in helping [the opposition],” Adam Shameem said, sitting in front of the Ka’bah, Islam’s most sacred shrine.
The Maldives Independent understands that a minister informed reporters Thursday that the government sought Saudi Arabian intervention to halt the documentary. The claim came after Yameen met with Dr Faiz Al Abideen, a special advisor to the king of Saudi Arabia on the same day.