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IFJ Protests Over Renewed Repression in Maldives

IFJ Protests Over Renewed Repression in the Maldives

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries, today expressed deep concern over the renewed crackdown in the Maldives by President Gayoom.

Since August 12, 2005, the first anniversary of the pro-democracy protest, arbitrary detention, use of force on peaceful demonstrators and a crackdown on the media have revealed the farce of the so-called 'reform process' in the Maldives.

Around midnight of July 31, a large number of people had gathered in front of the Majlis Building (Parliament) in order to observe the proceedings of the session of the Majlis on August 1, 2005. As the members of the National Security Service and pro-Gayoom supporters have reportedly been filling up the seats of the Majlis reserved for the public, the crowd gathered in advance. However, about 100 policemen, including the elite star force, brutally beat up the demonstrators with sten guns and electric shock batons. The police also arrested several people.

"The brutal repression on peaceful pro-democracy activists is a matter of shame, exposing President Gayoom's lack of genuine commitment to the democratic process," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

More than 140 pro-democracy activists, journalists and other freedom of expression advocates remain in detention. The detainees include chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mohamed Nasheed, a former journalist, and other political activists such as Kanduvai Hussain Rasheed, Ahmed Zahir, Hassan Zahir and Mohamed Hamdhan Zaki. Several detainees including Aminath Maasha, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, were reportedly beaten by the police at the time of their arrest.

The media has been particularly targeted in the crackdown.

"The continued censorship and intimidation of the media is unacceptable, and is a major obstacle in the way of democratic reform," said the IFJ.

On June 17, 2005, two Maldivian journalists, traveling home from Colombo on board the midnight flight, were questioned by the police upon arrival at the Male International airport.

Aminath Najeeb, the editor of the Minivan (Independent), has reportedly been hauled to the police station twice and threatened with prosecution and detention for an article on the August 1 protest. The Minivan, an online newspaper, was granted permission to publish a print edition only on July 26, but intimidation by the authorities has led to suspension of publication.

Ibrahim Rasheed, the managing director of the state-owned weekly Adduvas, has been imprisoned since August 14. A journalist with the state-owned daily Aafathif who was arrested on August 1 is reportedly still being held in secret.

Jennifer Latheef, a documentary film-maker and freedom of expression activist, was arrested on August 12 and freed the next day. The daughter of pro-democracy journalist Mohamed Latheef, who lives in exile, she is subject to daily threats from the government. Masked police have forced their way into her home on several occasions, insulting and threatening her.

Freelance cameraman Sirshan Zahir who filmed the opposition leader's arrest on August 12 is also at risk. About 15 masked policemen have been taking up position outside his house at around 3 a.m. for the past several days, posing a grave threat to his safety.

"Political freedoms in the Maldives can be restored only when there is complete press freedom, political detainees are released unconditionally, and a genuine multi-party democracy is set in motion," said the IFJ President.

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