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Raajje TV journalists fined for police obstruction

Mohamed Wisam and Leevaan Ali Nasir were fined MVR28,800 (US$1,868) each on charges of obstructing police officers



Two Raajje TV journalists found guilty of obstructing police officers were fined MVR28,800 (US$1,868) each on Tuesday.

Mohamed Wisam, 21, and Leevaan Ali Nasir, 20, are the first journalists to be sentenced in the Maldives in more than a decade.

The criminal court, which had delivered a guilty verdict in December, said it was imposing a fine instead of the four-month jail term prosecutors requested because the pair were first-time offenders.

Raajje TV said it will appeal the verdict.

Defence counsel Abdulla Haseen said: “We have always said that the prosecution do not have a case… We do not accept this verdict and we will appeal.”

The fine has to be paid within a month.

Wisam and Leevaan were arrested along with journalist Hussain Fiyaz Moosa during the opposition aligned station’s coverage of a bomb scare in the capital in November 2015.

All three alleged abuse in police custody upon their release.

The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of four police officers, who said Wisam and Leevaan prevent Fiyaz’s arrest.

Fiyaz, who testified for the defence, said he was walking away from the stadium where the alleged bomb was being defused, on the police’s orders, when a policeman came up from behind him and arrested him. The next thing he saw, he said, was other policemen attacking Wisam and Leevaan.

Fiyaz was charged with assault, but the charges were later dropped.

Wisam and Leevaan were greeted by a crowd of journalists and supporters as they left the courtroom. Leevaan said the “entire trial was unjust” and accused police officers of providing false testimony.

“Frankly, I don’t feel like this is over,” Wisam told the Maldives Independent.

The young presenter is on trial on a second count of police obstruction over his arrest while covering a March 2015 protest.

“Today’s verdict explicitly stated that a fine was imposed because I do not have a criminal record. If I am found guilty in the second case, I will certainly be sent to jail,” he said.

Haseen, the defence counsel, concurred. “There is little chance of leniency if he’s found guilty in the second trial.”

The case is ongoing.

Raajje TV cameraman Adam Zareer who was arrested alongside Wisam was also charged with obstruction.

A verdict in Zareer’s case is expected on February 27.

The prosecution of the three journalists stand in stark contrast to the lack of justice for crimes committed against the press, including the disappearance of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head, Asward Ibrahim Waheed, and the mass death threats sent via text messages to journalists.