The Supreme Court threw out today an appeal filed against a controversial ruling that split the ownership of Maldives’ oldest newspaper Haveeru and led to the paper’s closure nearly two weeks ago.
The apex court, in a letter, said “there was no reason to amend the High Court’s ruling,” and found “no grounds to re-consider the ruling.”
The High Court had ruled in August last year that Haveeru is not the sole property of its owner Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, and that three others – Abdulla Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem – have an equal share in the enterprise.
The verdict, widely perceived as politically motivated, cleared the way for Farooq and Moosa to sue Zahir – chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives and former education minister – at the civil court to claim a share of Haveeru’s profits for the past 35 years.
On March 31, the civil court ordered Zahir to include Farooq, Moosa and Naeem’s say in its daily operations, including financial transactions.
The Haveeru News Media Group, the company which currently owns the paper, shut the paper’s offices down, and halted the publication of its print edition. Editors continued to update Haveeru’s website, until the civil court on a Saturday ordered Zahir not to use Haveeru’s name or logo without the involvement of the new owners.
The Haveeru website has not been updated since April 2.
Farooq and Moosa are also seeking a court to resume Haveeru’s publication.
Meanwhile Home Minister Umar Naseer said tonight that the government intends to intervene in a bid to restart the paper’s publication. Speaking on DhiTV, he said: “God willing, the government will do what is necessary tomorrow to publish Haveeru. I have spoken to the Attorney General in order to so.”
Haveeru was established in 1979, and has the highest circulation of any local newspaper. It became the first media outlet to launch an online version in 1997.
Farooq and Moosa had claimed a share of Haveeru based on a 1983 agreement, which established the Haveeru News Agency to operate the paper. The agreement was reportedly annulled in 1985.
The pair laid a claim to Haveeru only in 2013, and won a stay order on the paper’s sale.
The following year the civil court rejected Farooq and Moosa’s claim, but the High Court ruled in their favour when they filed an appeal.
Zahir had maintained throughout the High Court appeal hearings that the agency was set up to disseminate news and operate the daily, and that it had no claim to the newspaper’s assets and printing press.
Some 183 journalists had signed a petition on Sunday urging the government to negotiate a solution to Haveeru’s shut down. The petition comes amidst growing concerns over press freedom in the Maldives.
Some 18 journalists were arrested last Sunday from a sit-in protest prompted by the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the closure of Haveeru and the appointment of President Abdulla Yameen’s campaign workers to the broadcasting regulator.