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Three IFEX members and other organisations protest government's failure to improve free expression situation

(ARTICLE 19/IFJ/RSF/IFEX) - The following is a joint statement by ARTICLE 19, IFJ, RSF and other organisations:

Mr. Mohamed Nasheed
Minister of Information and Arts
Ministry of Information and Arts
Rehendhi Higun

Republic of the Maldives

3 May 2007

Dear Minister,

We, the members of the International Press Freedom Mission to the Maldives - including ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Media Support (IMS), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) - would like to express our serious ongoing concerns regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the media in the country as we approach the anniversary of our first visit in May 2006.

Although there has been some progress on securing media freedom during the past year, the government has failed to meet its own deadlines for creating an environment in which freedom of expression can flourish and, in many instances, it has not lived up to international standards.

We welcome moves by the government to put in place a legal framework for licensing private broadcasters in the form of the draft Broadcasting Bill. At the same time, this Bill fails in important ways to meet international standards. The dismissive attitude of the authorities towards the concerns raised by the International Press Freedom Mission is disappointing and we urge the government to incorporate the suggestions made by the International Mission and set out in the ARTICLE 19 analysis of 9 March 2007. In this regard, we hope the allocation of frequencies will be undertaken fairly and transparently with a view to ensuring continued broadcasting by existing non-governmental radio stations and to creating a balanced and plural broadcast environment that is not based upon commercial influence alone.

We also urge the government to take concrete action to transform Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives into public service broadcasters, as well as urge the government to take steps to decriminalise defamation and to reform the civil defamation law.

The frequent cases of independent or opposition journalists being arrested, summoned without justification, harassed or expelled remains a matter of serious concern, as highlighted in the open letters and statements issued by the International Press Freedom Mission on 6 May 2006, 10 July 2006, 18 August 2006 and 4 December 2006, as well as statements issued by individual members of the International Mission.

In recent days, the ongoing trial of the editor of Minivan Daily, Aminath Najeeb, on three charges of 'disobedience to order' raises questions as to whether the authorities are purposefully targeting specific individuals and publications in an attempt to intimidate them. Moreover, the arrests of Zeena Zahir, of Miadhu newspaper, Adam Miqdad, editor of e-Sandhaanu website and 'Baby' Nasheed, a photographer from Minivan Daily, while covering the burial of Hussein Salah, would appear to be a purposeful attempt to obstruct reporting.

Furthermore, the Mission expresses its continuing concern about the detention and health of Abdulla 'Fahala' Saeed, a Minivan journalist, who received a life sentence for alleged drug possession and trafficking on 19 April 2006. According to his family, he is physically and psychologically debilitated after more than one year of detention.

We see little improvement in relation to cases of legal harassment since May 2006 and, although some individual cases have been addressed, the ongoing targeting of media practitioners demonstrates a lack of serious commitment by the government to uphold and promote press freedom.

We would like to reiterate our offer to work with, and provide advice to, the government of the Maldives on media policy and legislation, and press freedom issues. The support provided by members of the International Mission to the Ministry of Information and Arts on implementing its 'Maldives Media, 2006 and moving forward' strategy demonstrates this commitment.

We urge the authorities to increase the pace of reform and to ensure that measures taken are consistent with international standards. We also call on the authorities to halt all forms of direct and indirect harassment and intimidation against media practitioners and freedom of expression advocates.

Yours sincerely,

Agnès Callamard
Executive Director

Christopher Warren
International Federation of Journalists

Jesper Højbjerg
Executive Director
International Media Support

Robert Ménard
General Secretary
Reporters Without Borders

Najam Sethi
Secretary General
South Asia Media Commission

International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders

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