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MINISTER SAYS HE WILL DROP CHARGES AGAINST DETAINED REPORTERS

During a conference celebrating World Press Freedom Day (3 May) in the Maldives, Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed announced he would lessen or drop criminal charges against some journalists currently facing sentences or in detention, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Nazim Sattar and Aminath Najeeb, editors of "Minivan Daily", a newspaper affiliated with the opposition Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP), were facing sentences for an August 2005 article quoting an opposition activist, whose statements were alleged to have incited violence against the police. While under questioning from a widely international audience about journalists in detention, the information minister proclaimed that Sattar's trial would be dropped and three charges against Najeeb would be combined into a single charge of disobedience.

"Minivan Daily" has been the target of government harassment since its launch. Reporter Fahala Saeed is now serving a life sentence on what his colleagues believe are trumped-up drug charges. At the conference, Nasheed refused to drop his sentence, saying that "everyone knew he was a drug addict."

Nasheed also announced that "E-Sandhaanu" editor Adam Niqdad, who had just launched a three-day hunger strike, would be released. Niqdad, along with two other journalists, was detained for reporting on the burial of Hussein Salah, a man who died under mysterious circumstances following police detention in April.

Outside the conference hall, a small women's protest calling for freedom of expression was shut down by police, reports "Minivan Daily". Aishath Aniya was arrested and questioned for an article she wrote for "Minivan Daily" on the wearing of veils. Another 10 journalists walked out of the conference during the President's address to protest the treatment of the Minivan media group.

On the same day as the conference, IFEX members ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) said that the government has largely "failed to uphold and promote press freedom" in an open letter to Nasheed.

"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," read the letter, released on the anniversary of their first mission in May last year.

The mission once again urged the government to increase the pace of reform; halt all forms of direct and indirect harassment and intimidation against journalists; fairly distribute broadcasting licenses; and decriminalise defamation.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2dcjwe
- Joint Action letter to Nasheed: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83004/
- "Minivan News" on 3 May events: http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=3204
(8 May 2007)

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