Reporters Without Borders today hailed the release on 24 July of Mohamed Yushau, a correspondent of the opposition newspaper Minivan, who had been held on a terrorism charge since 9 April after publicly opposing the leader of the atoll of Thinadhoo at a conference. He has also often written about the difficult living conditions of Maldivians.
A court ruled in May that he should be released on bail but left it to the police to set the amount. The police demanded 35,000 rufiyaas (2,165 euros), which Yushau refused to pay, calling it extortion. According to Minivan he was released unconditionally after a judge finally said he should be freed without any bail being required.
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14.04.06 - New offensive against Minivan, with one correspondent arrested and another being prosecuted
Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about a wave of harassment and arrests of journalists working for the opposition newspaper Minivan.
Mohamed Yushau, its correspondent in the south of the country, was arrested on 9 April for allegedly refusing to respond to a police summon and was put in Dhoonidhoo prison near Male.
Musa Ismael, a correspondent in the southwest, has been harassed by the authorities and thinks he could be arrested. Abdullah Saeed, another of its journalists, has been held in Maafushi prison, south of the capital, since 27 March 2006. Photojournalist Jennifer Latheef is meanwhile under house arrest after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for "terrorist" activities.
"The security services should not be obstructing the work of the independent and opposition media in this fashion, as it is contrary to the pledges which the government gave in its recent road map to democracy," Reporters Without Borders said, calling for Yushau’s release, an end to the harassment of Minivan’s journalists, including Ismael, and due process for Saeed.
Yushau, who is also a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, has written many articles about the lives of ordinary Maldivians, especially fishermen on Thinadhoo atoll. The police waited two days before telling his family he had been arrested.
Ismael, who is accredited as Minivan’s correspondent on Faafu atoll, southwest of Male, has been summoned several times by the authorities and has told his editors he fears he could be arrested. Saeed, who is better known as Fahala, is serving a two-month prison sentence for refusing to undergo a urine test. He is also being prosecuted for possession and trafficking in drugs. The police claim they found drugs in his clothes when he went to a police station. Minivan says this is a trumped-up charge. Saeed faces life imprisonment.
Reporters Without Borders fears that Saeed is being prosecuted just to put an end to his work as a journalist. When he appeared in court yesterday, he was handcuffed and wearing a prisoner’s uniform. The judge, who insisted on not being named, is obstructing the rights of the defence, observers said. Saeed’s lawyer has accused the police of planting the drugs on his client. Nothing was found on him in a first search. The drugs were found by a policeman during a search of his clothes a few minutes later after he had undressed and when his back was turned. His lawyer was not present for these searches.
Latheef, who has been under house arrest at her Male home since 21 December 2005, is still receiving threatening visits from prison authority officials and sudden court summonses in connection with her appeal. The authorities have not replied to her request to be allowed to go abroad for treatment for spinal pain resulting from the blows she received at the time of her first arrest.
Originally just an online newspaper (http://minivannews.com), Minivan got permission to produce a print version in July 2005. But the company that was printing it ceased to do so at the end of August as a result of political pressure, and now only a photocopied version is distributed in the archipelago. Six of its reporters and contributors are at risk of being arrested.