Maldives police raid newsroom after documentary broadcast

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2016 7:31 AM
Maldives police raid newsroom after documentary broadcast

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Police in the Maldives have raided the office of one of the country's leading news websites shortly after the broadcast of a television documentary that accused the country's president of corruption, money laundering and misrule.

Zaheena Rasheed, the editor of Maldives Independent who was interviewed in the documentary, said Thursday that her offices were raided by police who produced a court warrant over an alleged "conspiracy to topple the government."

Police took away security camera recordings and computer hard drives in the raid Wednesday.

"Given that it came just hours after the Al-Jazeera documentary was broadcast, it was aimed at harassing us," Rasheed said.

Rasheed was among those interviewed for the documentary aired by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network. She said she left the country ahead of the broadcast after receiving repeated threats of prosecution under the country's tough defamation law.

"Investigating reports of incitement to violence. Buildings checked under court warrant, one among them housing Maldives Independent," Maldives police said on Twitter.

The Al-Jazeera documentary alleges that President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his now-estranged former deputy Ahmed Adeeb were involved in corrupt deals involving islands and lagoons allocated for tourist resort development.

The president's office said in a statement that the documentary was defamatory based on interviews given by people who themselves are wanted in corruption investigations and by political opponents who have said they want to overthrow the government.

It said the producers did not follow the best practices in reporting and had not given the government an opportunity to respond.

Al-Jazeera, a satellite news broadcaster funded by the Qatari government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a story about the documentary on its website, Al-Jazeera said the Maldives government and its supreme court did not respond to requests for comments about its findings.

The Maldives, a South Asian archipelago known for luxury tourist resorts, has been rocked by political turmoil in recent years. Last month its parliament passed a law that criminalizes defamation and allows for jail terms and steep fines for media outlets, journalists and social media users.

Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule, but Gayoom has taken a stranglehold on power since his election in 2013. He is accused of manipulating the judiciary, police and bureaucracy to concentrate power and stifle opposition.

At least four senior politicians — a former president, a former vice president, a former defense minister and a political party leader — are among those who have received lengthy jail terms after trials that were criticized for lack of due process.

The government is also accused of failing to investigate the case of a journalist who went missing two years ago and is suspected of having been abducted. Two media outlets also have been shut this year because of government pressure, critics say.

Adeeb, Gayoom's former deputy, is in prison after being convicted of plotting to kill the president.


Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.