The high court threw out Tuesday one of the two challenges filed against a civil court ruling that imposed a two-year work ban on the former employees of the now-defunct newspaper, Haveeru.
The dismissal came after the lawyer representing Haveeru’s former staff failed to turn up to a hearing. Husnu Suood, a former attorney general, had failed to inform the court that he would be out of town.
Suood did not respond to requests for a comment.
Former Haveeru employees, too, declined to comment.
The attorney general’s office had filed a separate challenge to the same ruling, arguing that the civil court was subjecting the paper’s former employees to forced labour by prohibiting them from working at any other news outlet for two-years.
The separate case is on going.
The civil court and Attorney General Mohamed Anil had previously clashed over the ruling after the latter said the order was “unlawful, invalid and unenforceable”. At the time, the court threatened to hold Anil in contempt of court.
The work ban was imposed soon after the high court, while hearing a dispute over the paper’s ownership, ruled to split the organization between its founder and three of its editorial staff who worked at the paper at the time of its founding.
In April this year, the civil court ordered Haveeru’s founder Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain to involve the new shareholders in the paper’s management and operations.
The three new shareholders – Abdulla Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa, and Mohamed Naseem – had laid a claim to the paper based on a 1983 agreement that had established a body called ‘Haveeru News Agency’ to operate the paper. The agreement was reportedly annulled in 1985.
In lieu of involving the new shareholders, the Haveeru Media Group – owned by Zahir’s three children – closed the paper and took its website offline.
All of Haveeru’s journalists and support staff then resigned en masse to set up a new paper, Mihaaru. Around 50 of the 80 staff at Haveeru are continuing to work at Mihaaru, in defiance of the court’s orders.
Civil Court Judge Mohamed Haleem, a former press freedom campaigner, had imposed the ban, citing a need to protect the interests of the paper’s new shareholders, and insisted that the ruling be enforced within seven days and authorised the home ministry to take action be against any staff members who refused to comply.
The journalists have said that that the work-ban, if enforced, will shutter Mihaaru.
Since the closure of Haveeru, two more news outlets were forced to shut down allegedly due to political pressure.
Channel News Maldives, a news website critical of the government, took its website offline in June citing unrelenting political pressure. DhiTV, the country’s first private TV station, also went off air in early August, soon after the ruling party approved a new law criminalising defamation.