COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A court in the Maldives has barred a group of journalists from working for their newly formed media organization for two years, threatening its closure in a move they criticized as an assault on media freedom in the archipelago nation.
The journalists launched Mihaaru news two months ago after the country's oldest and most reputed news organization, Haveeru Media Group, was shut down as a result of court arbitration of an ownership dispute. In its decision Sunday, the court barred them from working for any group other than Haveeru.
Mihaaru staff on Monday called the court verdict "an act of aggression by the state against independent and free media" and said it violated their fundamental human rights.
They said the verdict would effectively shut down Mihaaru, making it join three other media outlets that have been forced to close over the past six months.
The journalists said in a statement that the decision "is part of a much wider and unprecedented crackdown by the government on media freedom."
Ali Naafiz, assistant editor of Mihaaru, said its newspaper has about 50 employees, of which 20 are journalists, and "all the employees are at work today, despite the court order banning us from working." He said they plan to appeal the verdict.
Government spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab declined to comment, saying it's a matter before courts.
Last month, independent news website Channel News Maldives closed due to what its editor said was government pressure.
The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said such closures would lead to increased self-censorship by other media that were critical of the government.
Maldives is an Indian Ocean archipelago known for its luxury resorts. Its government has been accused of misusing the judiciary for political gain. Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule.