Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) expressed concern today at the Maldive government’s recent cancellation of 22 publication licences and its amendment of the press law to allow withdrawal of the licence of any publication that failed to bring out at least three issues.
The organisation said the changes in the law increased the government’s ability to stifle criticism and called on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to reverse the decision and make the law more liberal. It also urged him to free Mohamed Zaki, Ibrahim Luthfee, Fatimath Nisreen and Ahmad Didi, who publish the online newsletter Sandhaanu and have been in prison since last July.
The information, arts and culture ministry announced on 4 March that 22 publication licences had been cancelled because of irregular appearance. Most of the publications involved no longer appear or do so at irregular intervals. They include the Monday Times and the magazines Rankolhu, Faiymini, Koveli and Kokaa. Some journalists anonymously denounced what they called a "black day" for the country’s media and said the moves were intimidation by the government.
The ministry also announced amendments to the press law, including article 29 to allow cancellation of a publication’s licence if it failed to bring out at least three issues at regular intervals. Publishers would have to wait six months before applying for a new licence for another publication.
The Maldives has three privately-owned daily papers and a dozen magazines. A tougher government line towards them is expected in the run-up to general elections next year.