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Maldives journalists face prison

https://www.facebook.com/RaajjeTelevision/

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 20 January 2017.

Authorities in the Maldives should cease pursuing all criminal charges against journalists from Raajje TV, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court is expected to sentence Raajje TV journalists Mohamed Wisam and Leevaan Ali Nasir on January 24, 2017, according to press reports. Both intend to appeal "the baseless charges," Nasir told CPJ.

A court in the capital Malé in December 2016 convicted the two journalists of obstructing police, but postponed their sentencing hearing to January 24. Wisam and Nasir were arrested on November 2, 2015, along with Raajje TV's chief operating officer, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, while covering police attempts to defuse a bomb planted near the presidential palace, according to media reports. The three were released the following day, and accused police of beating them while they were in custody, according to press reports. A police spokesman, speaking to the Maldives Independent, denied the journalists were beaten.

In April last year, Wisam and Nasir were charged with obstructing police; Moosa was charged with assaulting a police officer, CPJ reported at the time. The charge against Moosa was later dropped, according to the Maldives Independent.

Wisam faces a separate charge of obstructing police while covering a March 2015 protest. His next hearing is scheduled for January 31, according to press reports. Raajje TV videographer Adam Zareer, who was arrested alongside Wisam at the same protest, was also charged with obstructing police, CPJ reported at the time. A verdict in his case is expected on February 27.

"Raajje TV journalists Mohamed Wisam, Leevaan Ali Nasir, and Adam Zareer are guilty of nothing more than covering events of significant public interest," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. "Maldives authorities should cease pursuing charges against these three journalists and drop these embarrassing attempts to muzzle the media."

Authorities have for years singled out Raajje TV for harassment, according to CPJ research.

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