Crackdown on media continued in Maldives on Wednesday as Al Jazeera, an international news network, released 'Stealing Paradise', a documentary alleging corruption by key figures in the Maldives government including President Abdulla Yameen. The documentary has sparked a massive outrage in the political circuit in the recent weeks.
Soon after the documentary was released on YouTube, a raid was conducted at the office of Maldives Independent, the only news organisation in the country producing English content. The warrant authorised the police to search the entire office building, which also houses a law firm, a college, a non-governmental organisation working for human rights and a travel agency.
The warrant said that the raid was a part of an investigation into a suspected plot to overthrow the elected government.
According the Maldives Independent, the media outlet was later assured in a written statement that “no incriminating evidence was found following the police raid”.
A source close to the news organisation told WION the raid was peaceful. However, it is being speculated that raid was probably aimed to remind that climate of control is prevailing in the country.
It's pertinent to mention that Maldives Independent editor Zaheena Rasheed has been interviewed in the controversial documentary over the alleged embezzlement by the government.
Broadcasting regulator issues warning
A warning was also issued on Wednesday by Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) threatening legal action “if found guilty of defamation when broadcasting or re-broadcasting the content in Stealing Paradise”.
The broadcasting regulator reminded broadcasters of the recently adopted anti-defamation law with hefty fines.
The commission said several concerns and complaints against the Al Jazeera documentary had already been received regarding possible slander and libel.
Documentary alleges massive corruption in Maldives
The documentary, created by Al Jazeera’s award-winning investigative unit, claims to expose massive corruption of $1.5 billion in Maldives, including fraud, theft, bribery and money laundering.
Al Jazeera's senior investigative producer Will Jordan earlier informed that he received death threats following the alleged expose.
President Yameen, former vice-president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor, governor of Maldives monetary authority Azeema Adam, former commissioner of police Hussain Waheed and Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed, among others have been accused of 'misuse of public money' and 'abuse of power'.
President Yameen has also been accused of receiving cash bags filled with $1 million by himself.
The documentary also alleges that Yameen had dictated former president Mohamed Nasheed’s prison sentence.
According to Stealing Paradise, former vice-president Adheeb had ordered to “blast the auditor general’s office” after auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim uncovered embezzlement within the government.
It also hints that Yameen hindered the investigation into the disappearance of a journalist Ahmed Rilwan who went missing about two years ago.
An alleged text message was sent by the President to the then home minister Umar Naseer saying: 'Umar no need 2b overwhelmed by Rilwan case' (sic).
Naseer has, however, denied the allegation.
I did not recieve any text message from RY on Rilwan's case. I am 100% sure that aljazeera will NOT have such a text.
The story has been told using three mobile phones that reportedly belong to former vice-president Ahmed Adheeb. Dozens of confidential documents.
Apart from the undercover footages of confessions by people, the documentary also features interviews of politicians from opposition including former president Mohamed Nasheed and former vice-president Mohamed Jameel.
Maldivian government dismisses allegations in the documentary
Meanwhile, Maldivian government has dismissed the allegations insisting that Al Jazeera has failed to provide any evidences to substantiate the claims against President Yameen.
The government has insisted on submission of evidences obtained by Al Jazeera to the Maldives Police service and Anti-corruption Commission of the Maldives.
An official statement says: The government is saddened by the allegations made in the documentary and has expressed disappointments particularly raising concerns with regard to the manner in which the reporting was undertaken.
"In preparing the report, the government notes that the individuals interviewed are persons who are suspects in a corruption investigation by both the Maldives Police Service and the Anti-Corruption Commission and by whom Interpol has issued a red notice over. It is also noted that individuals, who are actively working against the government, some of whom having publicly announced that they seek the removal of the legitimate government before
Confiscating my passport is another ridiculous & politically motivated attempt by President Yameen's Government (1/2)
the end of its constitutional term, have also been interviewed for this report.”
Further, it has been claimed that the “government was denied the opportunity to present a balanced, fair and true version of events, which makes “Stealing Paradise” nothing but defamatory, falling short of accepted international and legal norms of reporting.”
Meanwhile, some key politicians have preferred to remain silent over the controversy, while others are denying the allegation including former president Mohamed Nasheed and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
I have never asked for nor received any money to join/support any political movement. Allegations contrary to this are totally false.