Maldives: Journalists issued threats for story on politician and tourism mogul11 Apr, 2023
Two senior Maldivian journalists were issued serious threats via phone and text on April 7 following the publication of an article about a high-profile arbitration case between a Maldivian tourism group and Hilton Worldwide. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) in strongly condemning the threats against two respected journalists and calls on the Maldivian police for urgent measures to ensure the protection of media workers in the Maldives and the swift apprehension of the perpetrators.
The journalists targeted by the threats were senior journalist and secretary general of IFJ affiliate, the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Ahmed Naaif, and the senior editor of news outlet Dhauru, Ahmed Zahir.
The MJA said the men received several intimidatory threats of killing and assault by unknown perpetrators, warning Ahmed Naaif to leave the country ‘within five days’ after the publication of the Dhauru article, titled ‘Siyam and HiltonCase: Red Warning to Investors’, on April 6. The story in question was covering the long-running Singaporean arbitration case between Sun Travel and Tours, which is owned by Maldivian politician Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, and the American hospitality company Hilton Worldwide. Sun Travel and Tours was ordered by the Singapore courts to pay retribution to Hilton, yet also had its own case in the Maldives which served to stall the matter for eight years.
According to the MJA, Siyam, a member of parliament and a leader of the minor coalition party, the Maldives Development Alliance, called Zahiron the evening of April 7 demanding the article be retracted and stated the phone call was his ‘final warning’. The company later issued a statement disparaging the journalists’ coverage and threatened to sue the journalists for defamation. The men subsequently received a series of anonymous death threats.
The MJA said the matter was now with the police and the threats sent to their phones were with investigating officers, but it held grave concerns for the journalists’ safety and the blatant attack on freedom of expression. Siyam’s MDA is in coalition with the current Maldivian government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
The IFJ said the threats on the two journalists was a direct assault on all media in the Maldives and presented a poor image of democracy in the Maldives if journalists are not able to go about their work safely and publish in the public interest without fear.
The IFJ said: “Any dispute regarding media reporting in the Maldives should be appropriately handled by the Maldives Media Council, which is the arbiter on such disputes. Despite the position of the person, be they a politician or an everyday Maldivian, this mechanism was established for exactly this purpose. Position or power does not give exemption.”
According to the MJA, the failure of police investigations into past incidents of harassment and intimidation in the Maldives had created a climate of impunity in the country that civil society, media and journalist representative groups and the government had worked hard to tackle through proactive justice measures and a major commission.
In the leadup to the country’s presidential election later this year, both IFJ and MJA have documented a concerning rise in violations against media, prompting stronger calls for concerted action from the government and authorities.
On March 20, the chief editor of the online news outlet Adhadhu, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, was sent a death threat via text message after he published an article relating to organised crime and religious extremism in the Maldives. But historically, the Maldives sits with a dark history of attacks against journalists after the brutal killings in 2017 and 2014 respectively of journalists and bloggers Yameen Rasheed and Ahmed Rilwan. Both were killed in targeted attacks by extremist groups after receiving a series of death threats that were not adequately investigated or taken seriously.
The MJA said: “Under no circumstances are death threats and threats of physical assault against journalists be taken lightly. This is a more serious issue that needs to be addressed soon. It is the duty of the state to ensure the safety of journalists. We call on the Maldives government and police to provide adequate security to the journalists who were threatened, and we call on law enforcement to investigate the case swiftly and find the perpetrators.”
The IFJ said: “Journalists must be able to conduct their work free from intimidation, harassment, and government interference. The threats against Ahmed Naaif and Ahmed Zahir are a grave concern for all journalists. The media industry is united against threats to reporting and the vital role that journalists play in holding the powerful to account. The Maldivian people must condemn these attacks as an attack to all and the public’s right to know.”