Reporters Without Borders today cautiously welcomed the release of Maldives cyber-dissident Mohamed Zaki, after two years in prison and 19 months under house arrest and called on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to send a "positive signal" to the world by freeing other journalists still being detained, including two arrested several days ago.
Zaki, who helped run the e-mailed newsletter Sandhaanu, was freed on 18 August, two months after the release of another Sandhaanu staff member, Fathimath Nisreen. He told Reporters Without Borders he had been freed without conditions attached and that he would not otherwise have agreed to his release. He said he would keep on fighting even if he was thrown in prison again, because "freedom of speech cannot be sacrificed."
He was jailed in January 2002 and then put under house arrest in January 2004 because he was partially paralysed by a back problem.
Zaki, along with Ahmad Didi, Ibrahim Lutfy and his assistant Nisreen, were arrested in January 2002 for producing the newsletter, which criticised human rights violations and corruption. Zaki, Didi and Lufti were accused of libel and supposedly trying to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 July 2002. Nisreen, who was only 22 at the time, got 10 years.
Lutfy escaped on 24 May 2003 and now lives in Switzerland. Nisreen was amnestied by President Gayoom on 9 May this year. Didi has been under house arrest since February 2004. The sentences of he and Zaki were both reduced to 15 years in 2003.
Press freedom in the Maldives has been attacked many times in recent weeks. Two journalists — Ibrahim Rasheed, editor of the weekly Adduvas, and a journalist on the daily Aafathis — .were arrested recently. An online opposition paper, Minivan News, has also been banned and an arrest warrant issued for its woman editor, Aminath Najeeb.