Seven journalists and cameramen from two private TV stations were arrested Wednesday night while covering a protest outside the Maldivian Democratic Party meeting hall in Malé.
Adam Janah, Ahmed Riffath, Mohamed Shanoon, and Abdullah Yameen from Sangu TV along with Mohamed Wisam, Murshid Abdul Hakeem and Ahmed Mamdhooh from the opposition-aligned Raajje TV were arrested around 11 pm from inside the meeting hall, disrupting live coverage of the event.
The journalists were accused of obstructing police duty while Specialist Operations officers attempted to disperse the “unlawful gathering”.
All seven were released after about two and a half hours inside the police headquarters.
The journalists alleged that they were roughed up by the police and that their equipment was damaged. Raajje TV also released video footage showing a police officer kicking journalist Murshid.
Asked about the alleged abuse, Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, the police spokesman, said: “We have received complaints with allegations of that nature. We are advising everyone with complaints to submit them to the police professional standards department. We want to investigate any allegation of abuse during police conduct.”
Raajje TV’s Chief Operating Officer Hussain Fiyaz Moosa said Murshid was kicked by two officers after he was taken on to the police vehicle.
“He has a pain in the chest but thankfully no injuries to the bone,” he said.
Fiyaz alleged that Raajje TV journalist Abdulla Naseer was also beaten after he was asked to stay near a barricade. “Naseer was standing where the police asked him to stand at when a policeman hit him on the jaw,” Fiyaz said.
A spokesman for Sangu TV said the police manhandled their journalists during the arrest.
“There are videos that show our team inside the MDP haruge [meeting hall] when police targeted them. The video also shows that police used unnecessary excessive force against a group of journalists that were not responding with violence in any way,” he said.
According to Sangu TV, the station’s journalist Abdulla Yameen was handed summons to appear for questioning on obstruction charges Thursday evening.
The arrests came amidst a police crackdown on the opposition after Monday’s controversial lockdown of parliament by the military. The police have since blocked the opposition’s attempts to hold rallies or stage protests in the capital.
According to the MDP, 11 people were arrested Wednesday as opposition supporters attempted to gather at the meeting hall in front the artificial beach in Malé. The protesters were released after they were taken to the police headquarters.
Video clips of police officers asking mothers with young children to leave the artificial beach have been widely shared on social media.
Late on Wednesday night, riot police pepper sprayed inside the meeting hall, shut the gate and prevented people from coming out, the MDP alleged.
The main opposition party strongly condemned the arrest and manhandling of the journalists and called for investigations into alleged misconduct by individual officers.
Local NGO Transparency Maldives also called on the watchdog bodies to “fully investigate the actions of the police” and expressed concern with “the continued breakdown of democratic institutions and processes and the continued impunity of law enforcement agencies.”
According to the NGO, police officers used pepper spray indiscriminately and used disproportionate force to arrest individuals.
“Furthermore, police entered MDP campaign center without a court order and locked people inside after pepper spraying into the hall,” the local chapter of Transparency International said in a statement.
“We are currently seeing an unprecedented level of suppression of the freedom of media and at a time when freedom of assembly and expression are unconstitutionally curtailed.”
The International Federation of Journalists also issued a statement “demanding respect to journalists’ rights and action against police” involved in the alleged mistreatment.
“The IFJ condemns the Maldives police for roughing up and arresting journalists who were carrying out their professional duty of covering the opposition rally in Malé,” the press freedom organisation said.
“The act is a clear violation of journalists’ rights to cover events; and was carried out to intimidate the journalists and stop them from informing the public. The IFJ urges the Maldives government to order the police to respect journalists’ rights; and take action against the police officers involved in the act.”
— RaajjeTVPR (@Raajje_tvPR) July 26, 2017
— #JazeeraRaees 💛🇲🇻💛 (@IllathHassan) July 26, 2017
— MIDEY (@mideyalvarez) July 26, 2017
our journalist hussain waseem has been brutally assaulted tonight while covering a news event. pic.twitter.com/4xNYFJy6zc
— Imad Latheef (@ImadLatheef) July 26, 2017
RaajjeTV news director Ali Yoosuf attacked by the police with pepper spray while standing in front of police station. in hospital now. pic.twitter.com/O0XEqeV5Ue
— RaajjeTV (@Raajje_tv) July 26, 2017
Pepper sprayed without warning. pic.twitter.com/ZC84jkRBek
— Mickail Naseem 🎈 (@MickailNaseem) July 26, 2017