A second hearing in Raajje TV journalist Hussain Fiyaz Moosa’s assault trial was cancelled today, reportedly because state prosecutors are revising charges against him.
Fiyaz, the opposition aligned TV station’s chief operating officer, was told today that the prosecutor general’s office had withdrawn the charge sheet to revise charges.
Fiyaz was accused of assaulting a police officer while reporting on the military’s attempts to defuse a bomb on November 2 last year, but he was charged with touching an individual without his consent – a class four misdemeanor.
During a first hearing on May 2, presiding judge Adam Areef had asked prosecutors why the veteran journalist was not charged with the more serious offence of assault, which carries a four-year jail sentence.
The PG office spokesperson told The Maldives Independent at the time that the prosecutors opted for the lesser charge “because the defendant will be sentenced for touching a person without consent in the event he is not convicted of injuring an officer.”
A credible source told the The Maldives Independent that the police do not have sufficient evidence to prove Fiyaz harmed the policeman.
A date for the next hearing has not been set.
Fiyaz is the fourth journalist from Raajje TV on trial. The charges were pressed amidst an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of the press in the Maldives.
Hearings on May 10 and 11 against fellow journalists Mohamed Wisam, Leevan Ali Naseer and Adam Zareer were also cancelled. The three are charged with obstructing police officers.
The criminal court today barred Haveeru journalists, Fazeena Ahmed, Ali Nafiz and Ahmed Hamdhoon from registering to observe the trial. Haveeru, now closed over an ownership dispute, is among three outlets barred from the court.
Some 183 Maldivian journalists have signed a petition urging the authorities to withdraw charges against all journalists.
Raajje TV has meanwhile expressed “shock” and “disappointment” over the Prosecutor General’s decision to file criminal charges against its staff.
“The charges brought against all four journalists are baseless in its entirety, and thus, can only be justified as an attack on press freedom and an attempt to impede, harass, and psychologically torture Raajje TV journalists with the objective of stopping Raajje TV‘s independent broadcasts,” the station said in a statement on April 17.
Press freedom groups including Committee to Protect Journalists, International Federation of Journalists and Washington-based National Press Club have also expressed concern over declining press freedom in the Maldives.