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Maldives crackdown on foreign media continues, film accused of harming 'archipelago's reputation'

Maldivian riot policemen are watched by media as they argue with a supporter of former President Mohamed Nasheed on a street in Male Photograph: (AFP)

WION New Delhi, India Sep 02, 2016, 06.56 AM (IST) Daniele Pagani
The Maldivian state broadcaster Public Service Media (PSM) has accused the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera of making a documentary film that will damage the archipelago's economy and reputation. The documentary is about the abuse of power and the alleged corruption of current President Abdulla Yameen.  

The Maldives Independent website reported that PSM wrote an article on its official website, claiming the documentary is made by a “a foreigner and non-Muslim called Will Jordan with the purpose of spreading falsehoods about the Maldives and causing loss of investor confidence”. 

The broadcaster also accused the journalist of working on behalf of the opposition party, The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). 


On Thursday, Will Jordan received a death-threatening tweet from what seems to be a Maldivian nationalist youth organisation.
 

 

In an email interaction with WION, Clayton Swisher, Director of Investigative Journalism for Al Jazeera, said: "On Thursday we were made aware of a specific threat circulated on social media against one of our investigative reporters. We immediately notified the Metropolitan Police in London who have launched an investigation.  We similarly call on the Maldivian government to assist with identifying those behind this campaign of intimidation, and we urge all parties to keep an open mind ahead of the films broadcast."

A source close to Al Jazeera told WION that the documentary screening which was meant to be on Sunday in London was postponed because the organisers fear for viewers' security.

After the end in 2008 of 30 years of autocratic rule by Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives has been through a period of political turmoil. After winning the first democratic elections in the country's history, former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in 2012 after what the MDP claims was a coup. He currently lives in London, after having been sentenced to 13 years in prison under the Anti-Terrorism Act; he served a year of his sentence. Nasheed was accused of arbitrarily using his influence to remove a criminal court judge from his post. The international human rights organisation Amnesty International called the sentence “politically motivated”. 

PSM's statement comes only a few days after the business lobby group Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) urged President Yameen to ban foreign journalists from working in the Maldives. The group said foreign journalists are biased in their coverage and that they could undermine the national economy, built mainly on tourism. 

The allegations against Al Jazeera come on top of other similar events, suggesting a general crackdown against foreign media reporting from the country.  

On August 5, Polish photojournalist Elwira Szczecian and her Italian husband were expelled from the country. While on holiday, the photographer came across a demonstration and took a few pictures. That was considered enough by the Maldivian police to arrest the couple on accusations of practising journalism illegally in the country. The Immigration Office issued a 10-year ban against them. 

In December 2015, a similar fate befell a four-member German TV crew reporting from the Maldives. The immigration department expelled them saying they were shooting without permission.  

During former President Nasheed's tenure, foreign journalists were allowed to enter the country and report on tourist visas -- a practice the new government is not keen on continuing. 

The Maldives Independent reported that member of parliament Ahmed Nihan said on TV that Maldivian citizens will also be held responsible if they are believed to have misreported facts to the foreign media. “Action will be taken if they give false information to harm the Maldives, harm the government, and destroy the economy,” he said. “Legal action will also be taken against those who broadcast, rebroadcast, or report the same content in writing.” 

The scenario is also getting increasingly difficult for local media houses. On August 9, the Maldivian parliament passed a defamation bill allowing journalists and media houses to be prosecuted and fined (heavily) in case allegations made by them are considered offensive.  

Defamation bills, all over the world, are often misused by governments as a pretext to silence the media. Maldivian journalists and citizens took to the streets to protest against the bill, but their voices went unheard.  

The Maldives is a young democracy, a country that has for long been hostage to what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defined as the "danger of a single story", a mono-dimensional narrative which flattens the many shades of a story giving voice only to one side.  

For many years, the international media and their audience thought and spoke about the Maldives only as an earthly paradise, free of problems, a place one went for relaxing holidays and the astonishing beaches.  

Politics seemed to play no role in the Maldives' narrative. There was only space for that single story of the perfect and romantic holiday, a place the society of which could be anything but unhappy.  

The Maldives is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth, but there is clearly more going on there: a country with political and social challenges, a young democracy living through a turbulent moment but one that is also willing to invest its energies in getting rid of it.  

Trying to silence voices and witnesses, both foreign and local, who are investigating and reporting on this process in the name of protecting business will only harm the country's democratic development. 

(WION)
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