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Maldives19 July 2006

A vibrant media under pressure: an independent assessment of press freedom in the Maldives

From 3 to 7 May 2006, the International Press Freedom Mission - an independent group of international organisations working to promote international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression - undertook a fact-finding mission to the Maldives.

The Mission meet with high officials of the government, including the Attorney General and the Information Minister, media community (including journalists working in opposition, pro-government and government-owned media), civil society, detained journalists, the Human Rights Commission and diplomats.

The Mission found clear examples of harassment, intimidation and attacks against media practitioners and dissenting voices in the country. However, the Mission also observed the opening up of the freedom of expression space and a growth in independent media over the past 18 months. In this regard, despite pressure and restrictions, journalists have exercised their rights to inform the Maldivian public and thereby increased freedom of expression in the country. Steps taken by the government to relax restrictions, such as procedures for licensing and registration of private publications, have also contributed to the creation of a more liberal environment, although more remains to be done.

Although the government is taking steps to improve the press freedom environment in the country through the "roadmap" for the reform agenda, the proposed draft Bill on Press Freedom fails to meet international standards on freedom of expression. The Mission’s analysis of the draft Bill shows that the restrictions on freedom of expression are too broadly and vaguely worded and therefore can be easily abused for political purposes. The draft Bill proposes a number of media crimes and fails to provide sufficient protective measures for freedom of the media. In this regard, the Mission offered its expertise in assisting the redrafting process for the Press Freedom Bill, as well as the other pieces of pending draft legislation relating to the media and freedom of expression.

The Mission also welcomed the statement by the Information Minister that the government intends to transform TV Maldives and the Voice of Maldives into public service broadcasters and offered its expertise on how to ensure that this becomes a truly independent entity. The current control of the state-owned media by the authorities does not ensure adequate editorial independence and balanced reporting.

The Mission found numerous cases of arbitrary arrests, detention, harassment and intimidation of media practitioners. Journalists covering political and social events and demonstrations, as well as the participants in those demonstrations, have been the victims of excessive use of force by the security forces. In all such cases, the security forces have acted with impunity for their actions. The Mission also recorded cases of death threats and verbal intimidation against journalists, both within independent and state media, with the resulting chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The continued detention and house arrest of a number of journalists is an issue of serious concern, as are the charges against five journalists and editors working for Minivan, which would appear to constitute a concerted effort by the authorities to target this publication. In addition, the Mission deplored the abuse of Interpol procedure against exiled journalists and overseas Maldivian media, the blocking of Dhivehi Observer and Maldives Culture websites, and the jamming of the shortwave frequency of Minivan Radio.

PDF - 272.1 kb
Press Freedom Mission Report on the Maldives - July 2006 - ENGLISH
PDF - 25.1 kb
Press Freedom Mission Report on the Maldives - July 2006 - DHIVEHI

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