The government, which has embarked on a major democratic reform plan, oscillates between negotiations and crackdown in relation to media, which are growing ever more independent. Journalists close to the opposition have been the target of repeated attacks.
Information Minister, Mohamed Nasheed, who in May 2006 met members of an international mission of which Reporters Without Borders was a member, said the broadcast sector would shortly be liberalised and that laws to protect press freedom would be adopted before the end of the year. Unfortunately, the end of the state monopoly on radio and television has been postponed and the government had a draconian law on defamation adopted by decree. As a result, 38 requests made to the authorities to set up privately-owned radio and television stations have gone unanswered.
The government headed by the immovable Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been in power since 1978, has therefore failed to honour all its promises in relation to press freedom which were set out in the “road map” for democratic reform. Moreover, police continue to harass and sometimes imprison pro-opposition journalists.
The end of restrictions of publication licences did allow the emergence of many private media: six dailies, 15 weeklies and 70 other publications. Some titles have already proved their worth, including independent weekly Adduvas which revealed the existence of very advantageous loans made to several officials. The editor of the newspaper, Aishath Velezini, has received a number of threats against her life as a result of this scoop.
The daily Minivan has come in for regular government criticism and been accused of calling for violence and insulting the head of state. At one time or another during the year, every journalist and contributor to this title, founded by an opposition leader, has been arrested or summoned by police, threatened or assaulted. One of them, Abdullah Saeed, has been in prison since March, while cartoonist, Ahmed Abbas, was arrested in November. Editor, Aminath Najeed and her deputy Nazim Sattar, have been the target of several law suits. On the other hand, Jennifer Latheef, a photojournalist and human rights activist, was pardoned in August. Finally, the newspaper’s founder and opposition leader Mohamed Anni Nasheed, was released in September after several months under house arrest.
Police action can be violence. In February, a photographer for Adduvas was arrested and handcuffed while covering a demonstration in the capital. In April, Abdul Hameed, one of the managers of the political weekly Manas was arrested by police officers who accused him of carrying out activities against the state. He was freed two weeks later after undergoing several interrogation sessions. At the end of August, Fathimath Shaheeda, of Minivan Radio (the station is forbidden in the country and based in Sri Lanka) was struck by police officers while she was standing outside police HQ in Malé to do an interview. Finally, state media employees were harassed during opposition demonstrations.
On the eve of an opposition demonstration in November, the authorities expelled two foreign reporters, whom they had arrested on an atoll in southern Maldives. One of them was the correspondent in the Maldives for the website Minivannews.com, based in Sri Lanka.