New York, July 12, 2012--Authorities in the Maldives must ensure journalists are able to cover ongoing political demonstrations in the country without fear of being attacked, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At least four journalists have been attacked by protesters and police during demonstrations in the capital, Malé, that began Sunday, according to news reports. Supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have pledged to demonstrate until President Mohamed Waheed Hassan responds to their demands to hold elections. Former president Mohamed Nasheed, an MDP founder, resigned in February but said he was coerced, and called for a new presidential vote. Hassan has said the country is too unstable, according to international news reports.
"We are deeply concerned that journalists are being attacked by both protesters and police," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "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."
On Wednesday evening, Murshid Abdul Hakeem, a journalist for the local news website Sun Online, lost consciousness after being struck in the head by a stone believed to be thrown by a protester, according to Minivan News and local press freedom group the Maldives Journalist Association. Ahmed Zahir, president of the association, told CPJ that Hakeem had been treated at a hospital for his injuries and that he was unaware if the stone had been thrown deliberately at the journalist. Minivan News reported that Imthiyaz Fahmy, a spokesman for MDP, was "saddened and concerned" by the journalist's injury.
The journalist association, citing the local private DhiTV station, said protesters also attacked one of their presenters, Mohamed Ameeth, and knocked him to the ground on Tuesday, but did not give details on his injuries. DhiTV has historically reported negatively on the MDP, according to Minivan News. However, Nooshin Waheed, a MDP supporter who was present at the protest, told CPJ that Ameeth was passing a group of protesters on a motorbike when they recognized him and began to call him a traitor, but that he was not beaten. CPJ's emailed request to DhiTV for comment was not answered on Thursday.
Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the MDP spokesman for international affairs, told CPJ in an emailed statement today that he was "deeply concerned about attacks targeting journalists" and called on "members and supporters to ensure a peaceful environment" to allow news coverage.
Two journalists reported being attacked by police on Wednesday. Ahmed Shanoon, a cameraman for the private station Raaje TV, suffered a collarbone injury after being struck by a baton, news reports said. The MDP-aligned Raaje TV has accused police of targeting its journalists in the past, according to Minivan News. The association also reported that police attacked Ahmed Haisam, a journalist for the Minivan Daily, but did not report further details. (The Minivan Daily newspaper is not affiliated with Minivan News).
A police spokesman said that police "would not deliberately carry out targeted attacks on any media personnel," the local newspaper Haveeru reported. The official also said that any journalists working in an unspecified "secure zone" would be allowed to freely cover the protests, the paper said. Maldives Police Service did not immediately return CPJ calls and emails seeking clarification.
CPJ's coverage of two journalists briefly detained by police on Monday has drawn a storm of comments from individuals on both sides of the conflict. In a phone call with CPJ today, Zahir from the journalists' association responded to two commenters who said his organization was biased toward the government. "I'm not aligned with either the previous government or the current one," Zahir said. "I am not aligned with anyone."
- For more data and analysis on the Maldives, visit CPJ's Maldives page here.