Vnews senior editor Ahmed Rifau was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters Saturday night over a headline about the arrest of a senior opposition figure.
The police contended that the headline, ‘Adam Azim arrested on charges of trying to topple the government,’ misrepresented the content of the arrest warrant. Azim was accused of speaking in a manner that encouraged the illegal overthrow of the government and of undermining public trust and inciting hatred toward the judiciary.
“I told the officers that the charges on the court warrant cannot be quoted word by word in the headline. I said if I was trying to mislead, I would not have quoted what was said in the court warrant in the article,” Rifau told the Maldives Independent.
The journalist was questioned for about half an hour. The police spokesman declined to comment on Rifau’s interrogation, citing an ongoing investigation.
Rifau said the police told him he was accused of committing an offence specified in section 310 of the penal code, which deals with forgery and fraudulent practices. The police refused to explain the specific offence.
He stressed that the investigating officers treated him fairly.
Azim, the brother of jailed former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and shadow minister of the Maldives United Opposition, was arrested Thursday morning. The criminal court later remanded him to police custody for six days.
In March, the police also summoned the editor of newspaper Mihaaru over two articles critical of the Maldives criminal justice system.
Ismail Naseer was interrogated a day after the criminal court issued a stern statement threatening to take legal action against journalists who “encourage terrorism” and threaten the country’s peace, stability and sovereignty.
The police summons and threats of legal action came amidst unprecedented challenges to press freedom in the Maldives. Earlier this year, three Raajje TV journalists were found guilty of obstructing police duty and handed fines by the criminal court.
They became the first journalists to be convicted in the Maldives in more than a decade. The prosecution of the journalists was in stark contrast to the lack of justice for the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, and the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head.
The Maldives has also fallen five places on the annual press freedom index of the France-based Reporters Without Borders, which said the government continues to “persecute the independent media”.
Many journalists have been the target of death threats from political parties, criminal gangs and religious extremists, RFS said.
“This poisonous climate reinforces self-censorship,” the organisation observed.
“Refusal by the authorities to investigate journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance in 2014 speaks to the climate of violence and impunity in which journalists operate.”
In its 2017 Freedom of the Press report, Freedom House, a US-based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, also changed the status of the Maldives from Partly Free to Not Free “as the government further tightened its control of the media, including through the passage of new legislation that criminalises defamation.”
In early April, the broadcasting regulator slapped an MVR1 million (US$64,850) fine on Raajje TV for airing a speech at an opposition rally that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.
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