The members of the International Mission for Press Freedom in the Maldives today termed presidential pardon for photojournalist and opposition member Jennifer Latheef as a step towards reinforcing confidence in the reform process, but said it was a "half-measure" all the same.
"This pardon is a step in the right direction but we think it is important that Jennifer Latheef should be cleared of the charges of terrorism," said the five organisations that make up the mission. "This is necessary so that the case can finally be closed. We also call for a fair and transparent review of the cases against Mohamed ’Ani’ Nasheed and Abdulla Saeed."
The director of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) went to Latheef’s home in Male on August 16th morning to notify her that she had received a pardon from President Abdul Gayoom.
Latheef, who had been under house arrest since 21 December 2005 serving a 10-year prison sentence for terrorism, told the mission she refused to sign the pardon because she is innocent. "I am not a terrorist," she said. "The authorities must clear me and the others who are accused. If I was the mastermind of this terrorist group, why I am free and not them?"
She added that she wondered if the authorities would now impose the six-month prison sentence that is the punishment for disobeying an official order in the Maldives.
The government spokesman yesterday said Latheef was released under "an accord reached in the course of informal talks" between government ministers and leaders of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). He told Minivan News that her objections were just "public relations rhetoric."
Latheef received the 10-year prison sentence on 18 October 2005 for allegedly throwing stones at policemen during a street demonstration in Male on 20 September 2003 that was prompted by the death of a detainee under torture. The stone-throwing was deemed to have been an "act of terrorism." Five other young protesters were also given long jail terms.
Latheef denied throwing any stones and said she was there to gather information about the victims of repression. But the court accepted the prosecution’s claims, which were supported by contradictory statements from police officers.
Aged 33, Latheef is the daughter of one of the country’s most prominent opposition leader, who lives in exile in Sri Lanka.
South Asia Press Commission
International Media Support
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders