Maldives: CPJ urges fair, transparent trial for journalist

New York, March 28, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about Maldivian authorities’ criminal prosecution of Abdullah Saeed, a reporter with the opposition Minivan Daily newspaper. The journalist, also known as Fahala, was sentenced on Sunday to two months in jail for refusing a urine test when he was arrested last October.

Saeed still faces the more serious charge of possessing more than one gram of an opiate, which could carry a life sentence. Colleagues have insisted that charge was manufactured to silence a critical journalist and that any drugs were planted by police. They say Saeed refused to submit to the urine test because he feared it would be tampered with. Saeed was convicted on a drug charge once before, in 2000, but was pardoned three years later.

“We are concerned that the government could be using a serious charge to discredit a critic and intimidate his colleagues. We urge the government to ensure a transparent and fair proceeding,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director.

The Pacific island nation has a tightly restricted media, with little independent journalism. President Maumoon Gayoom has come under pressure in recent years to make democratic reforms and open up the press environment. After applying for more than a year, Minivan Daily was finally granted a license and allowed to start publishing in July 2005. The paper is affiliated with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

The Minivan Group—Minivan means “Independence”—also consists of a radio station and a Web site. All run stories that are highly critical of the government.