The Maldives has fallen three places in the Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index, after the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed and further restrictions on the media.
RSF said the government continued to “persecute the independent media” and that many journalists have been the target of death threats from political parties, criminal gangs and religious extremists.
“Yameen Rasheed, a citizen-journalist who had been investigating government corruption, was stabbed to death in April 2017. The poisonous climate of violence and impunity forces journalists to censor themselves,” RSF said.
It also said that the 2016 anti-defamation law was being used to intimidate and force the shut down of media outlets.
Media outlets can be fined between MVR50,000 (US$3,200) and MVR500,000 for a first offence and up to MVR2 million after the third offence, according to regulations enacted under the law.
Broadcaster Raajje TV has been slapped with defamation fines on three occasions, paying MVR1.7 million in fines in 2017.
Three Raajje TV journalists have also been found guilty of obstructing police duty and fined. They became the first journalists to be convicted of a criminal offence in the Maldives in more than a decade.
The prosecution of the journalists was in stark contrast to the lack of justice for the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, and the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head.
The Maldives is now ranked between Nigeria and Angola on the 2018 index.
Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104 – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129.
The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration – rising to 51 and then 52 on the index.
However, the Maldives slid to 103 in 2012 and 108 in 2013, falling further to 112 in the 2014 index.
Bhutan and Nepal rank the highest in the region at 94 and 106. Other neighbouring countries ranked below the Maldives with Sri Lanka on 131, India on 138, Pakistan on 139, and Bangladesh on 146.
Norway, Sweden and Netherlands topped the RSF index while North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan were the worst performers.