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Maldives 23 January 2007

Opposition website’s reporter expelled, banned for two years

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the expulsion of US journalist Phillip Wellman on 19 January and a decision to ban him from returning to the Maldives for two years on the grounds that his visa was not in order. Wellman works for the office of the news website Minivannews.com that is located in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

“The Maldivian government’s constant targeting of Minivannews, one of the only opposition news media, is alarming,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The process initiated by the authorities with a road map of reforms that was supposed to lead to more freedoms seems to have become seriously stalled. Once again, the government has not kept its promises and the harassment of independent journalists continues.”

Wellman arrived in the Maldives in September to report for Minivannews.com. Although he had a work visa, the authorities arrested him on 3 November while he was covering the arrest of members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party in the southern atoll of Gaaf Dhal. Accused by government spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef of “militant activities,” he and fellow journalist Graham Quick were then expelled. He was nonetheless told he would be able to return to the Maldives two weeks later.

Following his expulsion, Wellman went back to Colombo and remained there until 14 January. Before returning to the Maldives, he and his editor, Paul Roberts, sent messages to the Maldivian immigration authorities in an attempt to get his return officialised. All they got in reply was verbal confirmation of the possibility of his return, and a tourist visa.

Three days after his arrival in Male, Wellman was contacted by immigration officials and was told he would have to leave on the grounds that he did not have “official permission.” They refused to give him the reasons for his expulsion in writing, but they notified him that he would not be allowed to return for two years.




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