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New offensive against "Minivan"newspaper, with one correspondent arrested and another prosecuted

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced deep concern about a wave of harassment and arrests of journalists working for the opposition newspaper "Minivan".

Mohamed Yushau, its correspondent in the south of the country, was arrested on 9 April 2006 for allegedly refusing to respond to a police summons and was put in Dhoonidhoo prison near Male.
Musa Ismael, a correspondent in the southwest, has been harassed by the authorities and thinks he could be arrested. Abdullah Saeed, another of its journalists, has been held in Maafushi prison, south of the capital, since 27 March 2006. Photojournalist Jennifer Latheef is meanwhile under house arrest after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for "terrorist" activities.

"The security services should not be obstructing the work of the independent and opposition media in this fashion, as it is contrary to the pledges which the government gave in its recent road map to democracy," Reporters Without Borders said, calling for Yushau's release, an end to the harassment of "Minivan"'s journalists, including Ismael, and due process for Saeed.

Yushau, who is also a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, has written many articles about the lives of ordinary Maldivians, especially fishermen on Thinadhoo atoll. The police waited two days before telling his family he had been arrested.

Ismael, who is accredited as "Minivan"'s correspondent on Faafu atoll, southwest of Male, has been summoned several times by the authorities and has told his editors he fears he could be arrested. Saeed, who is better known as Fahala, is serving a two-month prison sentence for refusing to undergo a urine test. He is also being prosecuted for possession and trafficking in drugs. The police claim they found drugs in his clothes when he went to a police station. "Minivan" says this is a trumped-up charge. Saeed faces life imprisonment.

Reporters Without Borders fears that Saeed is being prosecuted just to put an end to his work as a journalist. When he appeared in court on 13 April, he was handcuffed and wearing a prisoner's uniform. The judge, who insisted on not being named, is obstructing the rights of the defence, observers said. Saeed's lawyer has accused the police of planting the drugs on his client. Nothing was found on him in a first search. The drugs were found by a policeman during a search of his clothes a few minutes later after he had undressed and when his back was turned. His lawyer was not present for these searches.

Latheef, who has been under house arrest at her Male home since 21 December 2005, is still receiving threatening visits from prison authority officials and sudden court summonses in connection with her appeal. The authorities have not replied to her request to be allowed to go abroad for treatment for spinal pain resulting from the blows she received at the time of her first arrest.

Originally just an online newspaper (http://minivannews.com), "Minivan" got permission to produce a print version in July 2005. But the company that was printing it ceased to do so at the end of August as a result of political pressure, and now only a photocopied version is distributed in the archipelago. Six of its reporters and contributors are at risk of being arrested.

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