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CPJ calls on Maldives to drop case against Raajje TV journalist

New York, April 18, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Maldives' prosecutor general to drop the legal case against Raajje TV journalist Mohamed Wisam, who was acquitted last month of obstructing police at an anti-government protest in 2015. The prosecutor general lodged an appeal with the high court on April 5.

Wisam was acquitted on March 28, after Judge Ahmed Shakeel ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the charge brought against him, according to the Maldives Independent. Wisam was at the protest to cover an issue of national importance, according to a statement that Raajje TV emailed to CPJ.

"The prosecutor general's insistence on continuing this baseless case against Mohamed Wisam and Raajje TV is clearly intended to intimidate all journalists in the Maldives," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. "Wisam was merely doing his job as a journalist, and should not be prosecuted."

During the trial, the prosecution said that Wisam scaled barricades and obstructed police officers, but the judge said that a video presented as evidence showed only Wisam's arrest, according to the Maldives Independent. The judge noted that other journalists were covering the protests, the article said.

In the statement emailed to CPJ, the independent Raajje TV said it wants the prosecutor general to withdraw the appeal and to "cease the merciless attacks on journalism in this country."

A date for the appeal hearing at the Maldives high court has not been set, Aishath Shaany, head of English content at Raajje TV, told CPJ. The maximum sentence for obstruction is six months in prison and a fine of up to 12,000 Maldivian rufiya (US$779), Shaany said.

The prosecutor general's office did not immediately respond to request for comment via email.

Prosecutors used the same video presented as evidence in Wisam's trial in a separate trial of Raajje TV cameraman Adam Zareer, who was convicted in February of obstructing police at the March 2015 protest, and fined 3,000 rufiya (US$195), the Maldives Independent reported. Zareer's lawyer said that he plans to appeal, according to reports.

Wisam and other Raajje TV journalists have faced multiple charges in recent months. Last month, Wisam and Leevaan Ali Nasir were found guilty of a separate obstruction charge and fined 28,800 rufiya (US$1,868) each, according to the Maldives Independent. Raajje TV has also been fined 2 million rufiya (US$129,584) under the country's criminal defamation law, the station told CPJ.

[Editor's note: The sixth paragraph of this alert has been updated to reflect the maximum sentence for obstruction.]

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