Male [Maldives], Sep 13 (ANI): Days after the Maldives Broadcasting Commission slapped a hefty fine on a TV channel for allegedly defaming the President and threatening national security, the Press watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF or Reporters Sans Frontieres) sought a firm undertaking from the two Maldives‘ Presidential candidates affirming respect to freedom of press in the country.
The Maldives Broadcasting Commission imposed a fine of 2 million rufiyaas (USD 129,807) on Maldives‘ Broadcaster Raajje TV, for comments made by an opposition lawmaker during live coverage of a demonstration in March. The Broadcaster till now has paid nearly four million rufiyaas as fine on four separate occasions.
The fine was imposed on the privately-run Raajje TV under Maldives‘ Anti-Defamation Act of 2016, as per which the media outlets are coerced to pay their pay fines within 30 days, regardless of whether there has been time to hear any appeal.
RSF in a statement termed the fine imposed on the broadcaster as “financial harassment”, while adding that the move is clearly a form of “intimidation and is a threat to pluralism”.
It further asserted that the incident just days ahead of the presidential election scheduled for September 23 is “disturbing.”
Highlighting few incidents from the past, the RSF said that the journalists in the Maldives are “often become the victims of both physical attacks and arbitrary detention, as was the case during the state of emergency at the start of the year.”
It further evoked the case of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a reporter in Maldives Independent, who disappeared on August 8, 2014. The international press watchdog said that neither the body nor those responsible for the abduction of the reporter have ever been found and the “investigation has been marked by a complete lack of transparency.”
In a similar case, Yameen Rasheed, a blogger who had been investigating Abdulla’s disappearance was stabbed to death inside his residence on April 23, 2017. RSF said that the preliminary hearings in the trial of the presumed killers of the bloggers were held behind closed doors and later ended up being suspended on administrative grounds.
The statement further read that the procedure followed in the case casts a “serious doubts on the judicial system’s desire to shed light on his murder.”
Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk asserted that “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.”
“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,” he added.
The country has been facing a political turmoil ever since Maldivian President Yameen declared emergency earlier on February 5. The 45-day emergency was imposed after country’s Supreme Court reversed criminal convictions against Yameen’s opponents, including former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
Even the international community has been pressing the country and are raising concern on state of democracy under Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen and has been urging the country to conduct free and fair presidential elections.
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