Opposition aligned Raajje TV station has suspended coverage of political affairs following the brief detention of a fourth journalist today amidst an unprecedented nationwide state of emergency.
‘We have no choice but to suspend our normal coverage tonight… because we are no longer able to report without fear,” said Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, the station’s chief operating officer.
Raajje TV will now only air national songs, he announced, during the eight o’clock news. “We have to protect our staff.”
President Abdulla Yameen declared the 30-day state of emergency raising fear of imminent bomb attacks, but international human rights groups, the governments of US and UK, the Commonwealth and EU have questioned the government’s justification, and urged it to lift the suspension of rights.
The decree suspends protests, strikes, and freedom of movement and gives security forces sweeping powers to make arrests and conduct raids. The constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of press and speech even in a state of emergency.
The police raided a second TV station, Sangu TV, last night and confiscated hard disks, suspending transmissions.
The raid came after the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), a regulatory body, said it would revoke the licenses of any radio or TV outlet that airs content which poses a threat to national security.
Fiyaz today said: “Despite the constitution guaranteeting freedom of press during a state of emergency, the MBC has said it will revoke licenses, without outlining exactly what sort of content poses a threat to national security.”
Fiyaz was among three reporters who were arrested on a charge of obstructing police duty last week. They said they were beaten severely.
Reporters Without Borders today urged the government against gagging broadcast and online media.
“We firmly condemn the police raid on Sangu TV’s headquarters,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“The wave of attempts to intimidate and deter the media from doing investigative reporting is indicative of a desire to blinker journalists and prevent them from providing their fellow citizens with proper coverage of the current tension. We will be on the lookout for any attempt by the Maldivian authorities to use the state of emergency as a pretext for imposing a media blackout.”
RSF noted websites Haveeru and Sun Online were rendered inaccessible on Wednesday due to attacks on their servers.
Raajje TV’s Murshid Abdul Hakeem was briefly detained today, while covering a tea party held by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) after it was forced to cancel a mass protest today.
The police, in a tweet, denied Murshid’s arrest, despite photos of police taking the reporter away. “Police officers were verbally abusive. They confiscated my phone, put me in a police vehicle for more than 30 minutes before releasing me,” he told the Maldives Independent.
Police arrested our journalist this afternoon but only to deny it when the news broke pic.twitter.com/bZUInMkJD5
— RaajjeTV (@Raajje_tv) November 6, 2015
“The security forces deny the arrest and beating of our journalists and do not compensate us for damages. Despite the arrest and beating of three of Raajje TV’s journalists last week, there is no institution that would speak in our defense,” the station said in a statement.
“We note we have asked the MBC for a guideline on broadcasting during a state of emergency, and we call on the state to protect freedom of the press.”
Raajje TV’s headquarters were destroyed in an arson attack in 2013. Two years after the attack, only one of 18 suspects was charged.