The department of immigration has set new rules requiring background checks on foreign journalists and photographers visiting the Maldives.
The move comes amid growing international press coverage of a protracted political crisis here, including an upcoming documentary by Al Jazeera about alleged corruption and abuse of power by President Abdulla Yameen.
Foreign journalists and photographers are now required to inform the government of the details of their work, their travel histories and education, and information on their bank account and criminal records, if any, before their arrival.
Hassan Khaleel, a spokesman, said the new rules are aimed at “checking who these people are and the purpose of their work.” The vetting procedures are in line with international best practices, he said.
The form for the security screening, IM 32, is available on the department’s website. Employees of foreign NGOs and foreigners wanting to work at airports in the Maldives are also required to undergo the screening.
At least four journalists and a photographer have been deported from the Maldives in the past year and slapped with a ten-year entry ban.
A Polish freelance photographer and her husband were arrested at an opposition rally in Malé in July on charges of working on a tourist visa, and a four-member TV crew German public broadcaster ARD were deported for filming without a permit in December.
There is no visa category for the press and most foreign journalists on assignment in the Maldives enter on 30-day tourist visas.
But Khaleel said they must apply for a business visa, a three-month permit that requires a Maldivian sponsor, or face legal action.
When asked why journalists working under contract or freelance to a foreign media organization were required to seek a local sponsor, Khaleel said the condition could be waived if reporters obtain from the immigration department ([email protected]) or a relevant government ministry.
For instance, a reporter wanting to work on a report on climate change could obtain permission from the environment ministry to waive the requirement, he said.