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Maldives 23 February 2006

Cyberdissident Ahmad Didi released, a photographer arrested

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release of Ahmad Didi, under house arrest since February 2005, who received a presidential pardon on 22 February along with another political dissident, Naushad Waheed.

The following day, Ali Fahud, photographer on the weekly Adduvas, was arrested while covering an opposition demonstration.

The press freedom organisation urged the Maldives government to extend the same leniency shown to Ahmad Didi to Ali Fahud and to Jennifer Latheef, who has been under house arrest since 21 December 2005, and is in a poor state of health.

Didi was arrested on January 2002, with three other cyberdissidents, Mohamed Zaki, Ibrahim Lutfy and Fathimath Nisreen, for working on an online newsletter, Sandhaanu, which exposed human rights abuses and corruption in the Maldives.

Charged with defamation and “attempting to overthrow the government”, Zaki, Lutfy and Didi were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 July 2002, and Fathimath Nisreen to ten years.

Lutfy managed to dodge police surveillance in May 2003, while having an operation in Sri Lanka and now lives in political exile in Switzerland. Fathimath Nisreen and Mohamed Zaki were released respectively on 9 May and 18 August 2005.

Naushad Waheed was arrested in December 2001 and sentenced on 12 October 2002, to 15 years in prison for supplying Amnesty International with reports on human rights abuses in Maldives.

Police arrested Ali Fahud, photographer on the magazine Adduvas, while he was covering a demonstration by the Maldivian Democratic Party in front of the parliament on 23 February. Eight other people were arrested and taken handcuffed to a police station in Malé. Ali Fahud was clearly identifiable as a reporter when he was arrested.

Elsewhere, Jennifer Latheef, journalist on the daily Minivan and a human rights activist, was sentenced on 18 October 2005 to ten years in prison for a “terrorist act”. After three months in detention in appalling conditions, she was allowed to return home on 21 December where she remains under house arrest. The young woman is suffering from spinal injuries.

Reporters Without Border is also closely following the case of another journalist on Minivan, Abdullah Saeed (alias “Fahala”), who is currently on trial in a drugs case. His newspaper said that this charge was just a pretext to punish him for his political opinions.

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