Maldives: Minivan journalists prosecuted and expelled

English PEN is gravely concerned about State prosecutions targeting journalists working for Minivan Daily in the Maldives and Minivannews (which reports on the Maldives but is based in Sri Lanka), believing such actions threaten journalists’ freedom of expression in the Maldives.

On 17 January, Minivan Daily Deputy Editor, Nazim Sattar, was summoned to court to face vague charges of ‘disobedience to order’ in relation to an article he published on 2 August 2005. In this article, Sattar quoted a prominent Maldivian artist and cartoonist, Ahmed Abbas, who criticised excessive use of force by the ‘Star Force’ (an elite unit of the Maldivian police) in terms that were regarded as incitement to violence against the police. Abbas was tried in absentia on 7 August and has been serving a six month sentence since early November 2006. At his trial, a number of Star Force members testified in rather exaggerated terms to feeling ‘traumatised’ by the Minivan article and too scared to step out of their houses.

No date has been giving for the next hearing of Nazim Sattar’s case, leaving that prosecution to hang over the head of the Deputy Editor.  The imprisoned cartoonist Ahmed Abbas, meanwhile, is facing a second prosecution before a Nilhandoo court regarding verbal statements allegedly made in June 2005 about threatening to overthrow the government. He denies these charges.

Another Minivan journalist, Abdulla Saeed (Fahala), claims that the life-sentence handed down on 19 April 2006 for trafficking in drugs was obviously trumped-up by the police. Meanwhile, an American journalist employed by named Philip Wellman was expelled from the Maldives this month. He had made every effort to receive official authorisation for re-entry following an earlier expulsion in November while he was covering the arrest of members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

English PEN objects to the failure of the Maldivian authorities to distinguish between the journalist, Nazim Sattar, and his source, and believes that the prosecution is part of a more general campaign to intimidate and silence the critical reporting of Minivan.

PEN members are encouraged to send appeals complaining about these measures, and the prosecution of Nazim Sattar in particular, to the Maldivian representative in London:

H.E. Mr Nassan Sobir
High Commission of the Republic of the Maldives
22 Nottingham Place
London W1U 5NJ

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