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Election monitors and observers lack Maldives visa

Foreign media face deportation if they are found working on a tourist visa.



The Maldives election body Thursday published a list of international monitors and observers for this Sunday’s presidential poll, but it includes journalists and organisations that cannot enter the country because they do not have visas.

A total of 38 delegates from 11 international organisations will be observers, the Elections Commission said, and a total of 26 media representatives from 14 outlets would monitor the election. The Foreign Ministry also said the election would be open to foreign media and observers.

But many journalists did not have visas at the time of going to press.

Devirupa Mitra, deputy editor and diplomatic correspondent of The Wire, is listed by the EC as an international monitor.

“Maldives election commission lists my name along with @amitabhprevi, @DipanjanET, @sidhant, @Meerasrini & Indian journos as intl monitors, but fails to mention that none of us got visas. There will basically be no Indian media to cover Maldives elections,” she tweeted.

“(also tagging @ParulChandraP who also was accredited by Maldives election commission and never got a visa. Same story),” she said in a second tweet.

Simon Sturdee, from global news agency AFP, has EC accreditation but no visa.

Emmanuel Derville, from Le Figaro, is also named as an international monitor. He, too, lacks a visa.

“‘Maldives election body denies blocking foreign journalists’”. Yet when I requested for a visa, it put me in touch with an agent who demanded 1500 US$ to submit my application,” Derville tweeted on September 17.

Two reporters from WION did not get visas. The three-member team from Strategic News International did not apply for them after looking at the lengthy list of paperwork needed.

Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times journalist Jeffrey Gettleman has EC accreditation but no visa.

The Asian Network for Free Elections is listed as an international observer but it, too, had not received a visa as of September 20.

“We can confirm that at this time, none of ANFREL’s observers have received the necessary visa to be present in the Maldives for the September 23 presidential election, despite the Maldivian Elections Commission formally listing us as international…” it tweeted.

The single-biggest delegation of accredited observers comes from the Alliance and Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, which has links with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.

EC member and spokesman Ahmed Akram said he would provide the Maldives Independent with the names of those with visas.

– ‘Deeply concerned’ –

The EC set a mid-August deadline to apply for monitor status.

Maldives Immigration set a deadline of September 15 for business visa applications and last month threatened foreign journalists with “punitive measures” if they were found working on a tourist visa during the election.

Immigration said visa applications could only be submitted after the EC had granted accreditation.

Journalists must submit extensive documentation – including a medical report, bank statements, travel history and details of previous employment – when applying for a business visa.

Foreign journalists also require a Maldivian sponsor. Some told the Maldives Independent that the EC shared the names of of two ‘sponsor agents’ who were asking for a lump sum of USD$1,500 or USD$300 a day to be a sponsor.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka said it was “deeply concerned’ about the new visa restrictions imposed by authorities ahead of the election.

The visa process had been clearly discussed with the Maldives ambassador in Colombo, it said, after the applications of several Colombo-based foreign journalists were rejected in February when President Abdulla Yameen imposed a state of emergency.

“While respecting the right of the Maldives to implement visa procedures, we still believe that the authorities could ensure easier access to foreign journalists if they are keen to showcase the integrity of the election process,” the FCA said in an open letter posted Thursday on Facebook.

– ‘Strangulation by bureaucracy’ –

The EC also published a list of people whose accreditation applications were rejected, including everyone from Thomson Reuters who wanted to cover the Maldives election and four AFP journalists.

Rejection reasons given include wrong sized passport photo, no passport photo, a missing cover letter, incorrectly submitted cover letter and incorrect declaration form.

Himal Southasian said the Maldives had found an effective way of controlling media coverage of the election, dubbing the method “strangulation by bureaucracy.”

Former EC chief Fuwad Thowfeek said the situation was different during the last presidential poll in 2013.

“The EC sent letters of invitation to many friendly countries like India, UK, US, Canada, Australia and organisations like UN, EU, Commonwealth, and international media institutions, expressing our desire for them to observe or monitor our presidential election,” he said.

“All expenses were to be borne by them. We requested the Immigration Department to issue appropriate visas to all those who come on our invitation. On their arrival and visiting the EC Secretariat, they were given passes of observers or monitors.

“We didn’t stop even those who came on their own with tourist visa. We facilitated election observation if any of them produced documents from their parents news agency or organisation. We welcomed and encouraged those who wanted to observe our election on their own expenses.”

But, after the Supreme Court controversially annulled the first-round of voting, Immigration said business visas were required and applicants were vetted by the Foreign Ministry.
File photo of Indian journalists in the Maldives