New York, March 17, 2023– Maldives authorities should investigate the police assault of journalist Hussain Juman, refrain from filing any charges against him in retaliation for his work, and ensure members of the press can cover protests freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On the evening of Thursday, March 16, Maldives police assaulted and arrested Juman, a reporter for the privately owned news website Avas, while he covered a rally by supporters of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives in the capital city of Malé, according to a tweet by the Maldives Journalists Association and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
Authorities released him without charge on Friday afternoon, following an order by the Maldives Criminal Court. Juman told CPJ that he did not know if police intended to file charges against him in the future.
“Maldives authorities must swiftly investigate the police assault of journalist Hussain Juman and hold the officers responsible to account,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “In the run-up to September’s presidential election, Maldives authorities must ensure the media can cover political rallies without fear of being targeted or assaulted. Journalists are doing their jobs to keep voters informed.”
Protesters had gathered calling for the release of PPM leader Abdulla Yameen, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison on corruption and money laundering charges in December.
Juman was filming the rally when police shoved him to the ground and threw his phone away, according to a video of the incident posted to Twitter and the journalist, who said he sustained injuries to his chest, shoulder, and back.
Juman was held in an overcrowded cell with around 12 others in the Malé custodial detention center before being presented in the Maldives Criminal Court on Friday afternoon, he said.
At that hearing, state lawyers asked the court to extend Juman’s detention for 15 days pending an investigation into allegations that he disturbed police functions and physically assaulted officers at the rally, Juman told CPJ.
After reviewing the video of officers assaulting Juman, the court denied the state lawyers’ request due to insufficient evidence and ordered his immediate release, he said.
Maldives Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed told CPJ by phone that police will conduct an internal inquiry into the assault and arrest of Juman, and will determine whether he will be charged.
Police assaulted two journalists last month while they covered political protests near the parliament building. The parliament is currently considering an amendment that would restrict journalists’ ability to cover elections.