"President Gayoom is trying to force the Minivan Daily to shut up shop, despite the fact that he gave the go-ahead for its launch barely three months ago”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “These arrests show the inconsistency of the government’s policies on free expression and democracy.”
"Every time the government relaxes its position and concedes a few extra freedoms, it immediately hardens its stance again and claws back the advances. We urge the Maldives president to release these two journalists and put an end to the harassment of this publication, the organisation said.
The two journalists were summoned by police on13 October and then transferred to prison in Dhoonidhoo. They have not so far been allowed to receive visits, either from their lawyers or families. Mohamed Nasheed, 29, a political activist and columnist for the Minivan Daily, has reportedly been accused of taking part in a pro-democracy rally in August.
Abdullah Saeed, 42, who is also close to the opposition, has been accused of drug possession. Police said they found drugs in his clothing when he went to the police station, but the Minivan Daily said this accusation was just a pretext. The newspaper added that five other journalists from the paper are at risk of being arrested.
The Minivan Daily, which originally existed only in an online version (http://minivannews.com), was given permission to appear as a printed newspaper in July 2005. Its printers stopped producing the publication at the end of August, after caving in to political pressure, and it now circulates in archipelago only in photocopied form.
The arrests come at a time of high political tension, since the arrest in August of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed (no relation to the journalist arrested on 13 October). A verdict is expected shortly in the case of documentary filmmaker, photo journalist for Minivan Daily, and political activist Jennifer Latheef who was tried in July 2004 for alleged "acts of violence" during demonstrations in September 2003.