Freedom of speech under attack in the Maldives

Raajje TV, the only pro-democracy television station in the Maldives was set on fire early this morning in Male’. All broadcasting equipment, bar a video camera have been destroyed in the attack, Raajje TV has reported.

 

This latest attack is part of systematic state-sponsored violence against institutions that support democracy in the Maldives. The attack on Raajje TV is not unexpected—it has been made inevitable by leading players of the current regime, especially the security forces, led by Maldives Police Service. Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, educated to first degree level at the dubious Scottish Police College has led the charge against Raajje TV. He first announced a policy of non-cooperation with all Raajje TV journalists shortly after the 7 February 2012 coup. CP Riyaz’s lead was followed by President Mohamed Waheed, who also banned Raajje TV journalists from various state functions, basically outlawing the channel as an illegal organisation. Police and other institutions have done nothing to find the perpetrators of the brutal attack, an attempted murder, of Raajje TV journalist Asward Waheed earlier this year further encouraging attacks on the channel.

Raajje Tv’s crime is supporting Maldivian Democratic Party and democracy in the Maldives by bringing news of the dictators’ clamp down on all democracy activists.

The Maldivian television landscape is one dominated by private ownership by rich political figures where television stations do not even pretend to be unbiased. Raajje TV is pro-MDP and is the only channel which covers the daily protests and other continuous activities across the Maldives to halt the authoritarian reversal currently underway. Its blatant support of MDP is the only form of a balanced view that people have access to given what the rest of the channels broadcast. These stations include: the supposed state broadcaster MNBC One, DhiTV owned by Champa Ucchu, a tourism operator and one of the main financiers of the coup, and VTV owned by Gasim Ibrahim, the failed presidential candidate and tourism tycoon who also bankrolled the coup and is the chief cause of the Current Maldivian crisis.

One of the first actions by coup-makers on 7 February 2012 was to takeover the state television station using mutinying security forces. Within minutes, they renamed the station TVM, the name it operated under during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s autocratic regime. The station was quickly put under the control of Ali Waheed, President Waheed’s brother, and apart from the series of special programmes and presidential debates broadcast in the run up to the elections, it has been totally inept at performing the role of public watchdog that it is supposed to.

Gasim’s VTV and Champa’s DhiTV, meanwhile, daily broadcast lies and anti- MDP propaganda, and provides live coverage of various anti-MDP campaigns their owners organise aimed at denigrating MDP as a terrorist organisation. Both channels are keen to also broadcast ‘religious sermons’ [condoned by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission as within ethical media practice] that are nothing but political messages aimed at inciting hatred against democracy activists and actions in the name of Allah and the protection of Maldivian nationalism.

Both VTV and DhiTV played a crucial role in enabling and encouraging the police mutiny against Nasheed’s government on 7 February 2012. Statements given to CoNI by various policemen who participated in the mutiny reveal that they were mainly driven by false news broadcast live on the two channels—they heard from these ‘news sources’ that a policeman had been killed; that MNDF officers were being attacked; that Nasheed’s plan was to arrest all police officers who had defied his command; that Maldivian men and women were being brutally attacked by ‘MDP thugs’ and MNDF officers were being ordered to act against the constitution by Nasheed.

One policeman described how he broke down in tears listening to this, and how it motivated him to defy Nasshed’s commands and join the mutiny. Without a doubt, these false reports broadcast on the two channels, not by mistake but by design, helped Maldives lose its first democratically elected government and paved the way for the current crisis.

Reports say that Raajje TV asked for police protection even last night. It has been fully aware that an attack was on the way—for two days, a report, allegedly containing details of an attack on Raajje TV—was made available to the public. But the police did nothing, and by their inaction, encouraged those planning the attack and guaranteed them immunity from prosecution. Now police are surrounding VTV and DhiTV, protecting them against potential retaliation from ‘MDP terrorists’. By doing this, the police are hoping to present to the world the image that they are protecting free speech and democracy in the Maldives.

Do not be fooled, they are protecting the mouthpieces of dictatorship, the poodles of autocracy which are responsible for creating hatred among the people against Maldivian democracy activists and activities. CP Abdulla Riyaz and current president Mohamed Waheed, and of course, Gayoom, whose grand strategy for an authoritarian reversal is responsible for the current mayhem in the Maldives, must bear full responsibility for the destruction of Raajje TV and the Maldivian people’s right to freedom of speech and protection against disinformation and pro-dictatorship propaganda.

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