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International mission releases assessment of press freedom and freedom of expression

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 19 July 2006 IFJ press release:

A Vibrant Media Under Pressure: An Independent Assessment of Press Freedom in the Maldives

From May 3 to 7, 2006, the International Press Freedom Mission - an independent group of international organisations working to promote international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression - undertook a fact-finding mission to the Maldives.

Mission participants - the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), ARTICLE 19, (VS Article XIX, International Media Support (IMS), Reporters without Borders (RSF), South Asia Press Commission (SAPC) - met with high officials of the government, diplomats, the media community (including journalists working in opposition, pro-government and government-owned media), civil society representatives, detained journalists and the Human Rights Commission.

The Mission found numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, harassment and intimidation of media practitioners and dissenting voices. Journalists covering political and social events and demonstrations, as well as the participants in those demonstrations, have been the victims of excessive use of force by the security forces. In all such cases, the security forces have acted with impunity for their actions.

The Mission also recorded cases of death threats and verbal intimidation against journalists, within both independent and state media, with a resulting chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The continued detention and house arrest of a number of journalists is an issue of serious concern, as are the charges against five journalists and editors working for Minivan, which would appear to constitute a concerted effort by the authorities to target this publication.

In addition, the Mission deplored the abuse of Interpol procedure against exiled journalists and overseas Maldivian media, the blocking of Dhivehi Observer and Maldives Culture websites, and the jamming of the shortwave frequency of Minivan Radio.
However, the Mission also observed the opening up of the freedom of expression space and a growth in independent media over the past 18 months.

The Mission welcomed the statement by the Information Minister that the government intends to transform TV Maldives and the Voice of Maldives into a public service broadcaster and offered its expertise on how to ensure that this becomes a truly independent entity.

Although the government under President Gayoom is taking steps to improve the press freedom environment in the country through its "roadmap" for reform, the proposed draft Bill on Press Freedom fails to meet international standards on freedom of expression. The Mission offered its expertise in assisting in the redrafting process for the Press Freedom Bill, as well as for other pieces of pending draft legislation relating to the media and freedom of expression.

The International Press Freedom Mission is a group of fourteen institutions, including UN agencies, global media associations, freedom of expression advocates and media development organisations, that was formed in 2005 originally to address the then-deteriorating situation in Nepal, but which also follows press freedom and freedom of expression issues more widely in South Asia as per the mandates of the respective members.

To view the full report visit:

International Federation of Journalists

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