This article was originally published on rsf.org on 12 September 2018.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Maldives' two presidential candidates to give firm undertakings to respect press freedom after the Indian Ocean archipelago's leading independent TV channel, Raajje TV, was forced to pay another record fine last weekend for allegedly defaming the president and threatening national security.
The record fine of 2 million rufiyaa (110,000 euros), which Raajje TV paid on 9 September, was imposed by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission a month ago for comments made by an opposition lawmaker during live coverage of a demonstration in March, just days before a state of emergency was lifted.
The fine was ordered under Maldives' 2016 Anti-Defamation Act, which forces media outlets to pay their pay fines within 30 days, regardless of whether there has been time to hear any appeal.
The latest heavy fine is the fourth imposed on the pro-opposition Raajje TV and brings the total sum paid to nearly 4 million rufiyaa (220,000 euros). This financial harassment is clearly a form of intimidation and a threat to pluralism – one that is all the more disturbing just days ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 23 September.
“The Maldivian authorities must stop this kind of pressure and allow journalists to cover the election campaign and the polling with complete freedom, or else this election will lack all legitimacy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.
“We also urge the two presidential candidates to put press freedom at the centre of the democratic debate by giving three key undertakings – to repeal the draconian anti-defamation law, to prosecute those responsible for violence against journalists, and to revive the investigations into Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla's disappearance and Yameen Rasheed's murder.”
Complete lack of transparency
A reporter for Minivan News, a news website now called the Maldives Independent, Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla disappeared on 8 August 2014. Neither his body nor those responsible for his abduction have ever been found. The investigation has been marked by a complete lack of transparency, with the police systematically refusing to release information about the case.
Yameen Rasheed, a blogger who had been investigating Abdulla's disappearance, was stabbed to death in his home on 23 April 2017. Preliminary hearings in the trial of his presumed killers were held behind closed doors but ended up being suspended on administrative grounds last June, casting serious doubts on the judicial system's desire to shed light on his murder.
Journalists in Maldives are often the victims of both physical attacks and arbitrary detention, as was the case during the state of emergency at the start of the year. No one has been prosecuted for this violence or abuse of authority.