It started at 6:34 p.m. Monday. Abdulla Riyaz (@riyazabdulla), whose Twitter bio describes him as commissioner of the Maldives Police Service (MPS), published the following on his personal account: "MPS decides NOT to cooperate to Raajje TV [sic]. A statement will be released today."
Raajje TV, for those not following CPJ's Maldives coverage, is aligned with the political opposition. The station's journalists cite a pattern of police harassment following what they describe as a military coup in February, which forced Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP) founder Mohamed Nasheed from the presidency. MDP activists have vowed to hold street protests until Nasheed's successor, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, calls presidential elections. Hassan's government says Nasheed resigned, and the MDP's violent demonstrations make the country too unstable to call a vote this year. They say Raajje TV journalists are on the streets as activists, not as objective observers.
On Sunday, Raajje TV broadcast closed-circuit footage that purportedly showed police officers siphoning gas from a private motorbike, according to local independent news website Minivan News. Police said the officers were confiscating the equipment as evidence, and were not stealing anything, according to Minivan News. Raajje TV told the website that police had declined comment prior to its broadcast. The Broadcasting Commission has ordered Raajje TV to apologize, and the station said it was seeking legal advice, local news reports said.
That was the backdrop to Riyaz' tweet and the police statement that followed. We haven't seen a full English translation of the statement, but Minivan News and Haveeru Online both cite excerpts. "Raajje TV's broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit in with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries," the Minivan News translation reads.
What does it mean for police to deny cooperation to a news outlet? Police spokesman Hassan Haneef told CPJ by telephone he would respond to emailed questions, and we'll share his comments as soon as we get them. In the meantime, the debate about possible interpretations is playing out online. Here are some comments, edited for clarity, from both sides:
@progressiveprt: Hatemongoring and spreading fabricated news by RaajjeTV in Maldives cannot be freedom [of] expression
@Raajje_tv: Maldives police ... will not corporate with RaajjeTV putting our staff and journalists at a greater risk
@anuahsa: #Maldives Police officially decides to not 'cooperate' with @Raajje_tv. No protection for journalists?
@TroxBro: will not cooperate or will not protect?
@shafaum: whn journalists behave more like activists u dont giv them protections [sic]
CPJ's take? The safety of all journalists must be assured. "All sides must respect the role of news outlets and allow journalists free and safe access to cover the protests as they continue to unfold," CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said this month.