The Maldives’ oldest newspaper Haveeru remained closed for a third day on Tuesday amidst a bitter ownership battle causing great despair among readers.
The civil court had ordered Haveeru’s owner Zahir Hussain to involve three others in operating the paper following a controversial High Court ruling that had split the paper’s ownership.
Haveeru subsequently suspended publishing its print edition and closed its offices, but continued updating its website claiming that the dispute only concerned the newsprint issue. The court subsequently put out a second ruling ordering Zahir not use Haveeru’s name or its logo without the involvement of the new owners.
The move was widely reported as a ban on Haveeru’s publication, prompting the court to threaten action against other media outlets over what it called incorrect reporting.
The Haveeru website has not been updated since Saturday.
“Three days without Haveeru is like deleting three days from the calendar,” one reader said in a Twitter post. Others said they missed the paper deeply.
Haveeru is national paper achieve of Maldives. Gaumee arusheefeh. 3 days without Haveeru is deleting 3 days from calendar 😢 #FreeHaveeru
— Luke (@Lucasjalyl) April 5, 2016
@Haveeru getting banned is like archiving of history/events is halted. It is like the time/record keeper is banned.
— Sith Lord Vich (@vichalhey) April 5, 2016
@haveerueng Life is not complete without Haveeru :/
— Ahmed Maashid (@AhmedMaashid) April 5, 2016
— Shauna Aminath (@anuahsa) April 5, 2016
— luban shareef (@lubanshareef) April 5, 2016
— Saeed (@Saeed028) April 4, 2016
— Mohamed Maleeh Jamal (@maleehjamal) April 4, 2016
Haveeru, established in 1979, has the highest circulation of any local newspaper. Although it was decidedly pro-government during former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year term, it has become increasingly independent in its coverage since 2008.
The daily’s closure was among an array of factors that triggered protests by at least 40 journalists on Sunday. Some 18 were arrested and 17 were held for over ten hours.
Its ownership was split based on a 1983 agreement that appears to have been dissolved in 1985.
The High Court had ruled in August last year that Zahir, who founded and went on to manage the daily for more than 32 years, is not its sole owner.
The unexpected ruling said that three others who were involved in managing the paper at its inception – Abdulla Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem – had an equal share in the enterprise, clearing the way for Farooq and Moosa to lay a claim to Haveeru’s assets and profits.
Since the pair had only launched a claim in 2013, it resulted in allegations that the legal battle was politically motivated and aimed at shutting the paper down.
Denying the claim, Farooq told Sun Online: “Why would we want to cut down the tree that we watered and grew? The civil court ordered for the paper to be run with my and Rasheed Moosa’s involvement. But instead of complying with the order, the manager of Haveeru has decided to stop running the paper.”
Haveeru Editor Moosa Latheef said the paper had been closed to comply with the civil court’s ruling. Noting that an appeal had been filed at the Supreme Court, Moosa said that ordering the paper to operate with competing owners was “not acceptable.”
The appeal had been lodged last November, but it is still not clear if the apex court would accept the case, he said.
Several current and former journalists have spoken out in solidarity.
“Haveeru laid the foundation for many of us. And it still is the source for ideas for very good journalists. You can abolish the home, but not their ideas,” said Ali Yoosuf, a former Haveeru journalist, who now works at opposition aligned Raajje TV.
“I, for one, am very concerned about losing years of stored archive news. It is Intellectual property,” Ali Nafiz, a reporter with Haveeru said.
Another reporter – noting the introduction of a new bill criminalising defamation and police failure to investigate crimes against journalists – said: “It’s not just the civil court order, everything that’s been happening for over a year now shows that this is planned, targeted and politically motivated.”