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Maldives 4 January 2006

Colombo-based exile radio and website raided in manipulation of Interpol

[Reply from Interpol at the end]

Reporters Without Borders accused today the Maldivian government of repeatedly manipulating Interpol after ten Sri Lankan police officers raided the Colombo premises of an exile radio station and website, radio Minivan and Minivannews.com, on 28 December in a search for arms that was prompted by baseless claims by the Maldivian authorities.

Some of the Maldivian journalists have since fled Sri Lanka and the station has stopped broadcasting for fear of further reprisals.

"The government in Malé has made a regrettable habit of sending reports to Interpol accusing independent Maldivian journalists and media based abroad of criminal activity without any proof," the press freedom organisation said. "This is an intimidatory policy designed to deprive thousands of Maldivians of independent news and information. We call on Interpol to investigate this crude manipulation by Malé."

Opposition journalist Ahmad Didi was arrested in Sri Lanka in 2002 as a result of a wrongful accusation to Interpol that he had a false passport. He is still under house arrest in the Maldives. In 2003, the Maldivian government tried to have journalist Ibrahim Luthfee arrested twice following a complaint to Interpol. And this year, the authorities obtained the extradition of opposition activist Ibrahim Asif from India after falsely accusing him of terrorist activities.

A member of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that a raid was carried out on radio Minivan and Minivannews.com in Colombo. No weapons were found and the case is now closed. According to several sources, Maldivian police chief Adam Zahir told Interpol weapons were hidden on the premises and accused the staff of preparing to overthrow President Abdul Gayoom’s government by force.

Paul Roberts, a British journalist working for Minivannews.com, said most of the staff had fled the country for fear of further operations by the Maldivian authorities in Sri Lanka. "As a result of this police raid, we have been forced to suspend broadcasts temporarily," Roberts told Reporters Without Borders. "It is what the government hardliners in Malé expected," he added. Presented by Ahmed Naseer, the web-based radio station had been operating for the past 16 months.

The Minivan press group has been harassed and censored by the Gayoom government ever since its creation. The Minivan daily newspaper was launched last July but has not been able to publish normally since August as a result of police pressure on its printer. The Minivannews.com website gets an average of 60,000 visitors a day. Radio Minivan, which broadcasts on the shortwave from Germany as well as being on the website, is also often jammed in Malé.

Most of Minivan’s journalists in the Maldives are being prosecuted, while photoreporter Jennifer Latheef is serving a 10-year prison sentence for an alleged "terrorist act."

The Maldives were ranked 148th out of 167 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index in October.

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Reply from Interpol

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In this country
28 October - Maldives
Generally good climate for presidential election marred by public TV’s bias in favour of incumbent
23 January - Maldives
Opposition website’s reporter expelled, banned for two years
5 December - Maldives
Open letter to the Information Minister, Mohamed Nasheed
7 November - Maldives
Government gets tough again in run-up to opposition rally
19 August - Maldives
Despite pardon, Jennifer Latheef should be cleared of terrorism charges

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