Charge against a journalist dropped, but jail threat looms for another

New York, May 3, 2007—The Maldivian information minister announced today that a criminal charge of “disobedience of an order” against Minivan Daily Deputy Editor Nazim Sattar would be dropped and that charges against Editor Aminath Najeeb would be reduced, Sattar told CPJ.

The two were facing criminal charges related to an August 2005 article quoting an opposition activist. Authorities alleged that activist Ahmed Abbas’ statements incited violence against the police; Abbas has been jailed in connection with the statement.

Two other charges against Najeeb related to Minivan articles will be combined into a single charge of disobedience, Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed told journalists. Nasheed’s announcement came during a conference marking World Press Freedom Day. Najeeb still faces jail time if convicted.

“While we are relieved that authorities have dropped and reduced charges against the two Minivan editors, reporters in the Maldives remain at serious risk for official retribution,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “If the government wants the international community to take seriously its pledges of press freedom, it must end its pattern of targeting journalists and obstructing critical reporting.”

Minivan Daily, a newspaper that is affiliated with the opposition Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP), has been a target of government harassment since its launch. Reporter Fahala Saeed is now serving a life sentence on what his colleagues believe are trumped-up drug charges.

Several journalists working for news outlets critical of the government have been detained in the past week, the Minivan News Web site reported. Aishath Ainya, a contributing columnist for the newspaper, was detained at 9:30 this morning and questioned by the Supreme Islamic Council in connection with a March 20 column on the wearing of veils. She was released later today and told to return in a few days.

Three reporters for various news outlets were detained on Saturday while reporting on the burial in Male of Hussein Salah, who died under mysterious circumstances earlier this month. One of the journalists, E-Sandhaanu editor Adam Niqdad, launched a three-day hunger strike while in custody and was released today.