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RSF names Maldives police unit Star Force as predator of press freedom

Categories: South Asia, Maldives, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Protest

Reporters without Borders (RSF) has listed Star Force, an elite unit of Maldives Police Service, as a predator of press freedom [1]. The listing came weeks after a dead body fished out of water in capital Male’ made the public point their fingers at the police, [2] whose torture techniques [3] could be a how-to-manual for any despot. Hussain Salah has now been buried but not before the corpse caused much controversy [4]. The basic disregard for press freedom by the police was confirmed by further arrests of journalists [5] during protests over Salah’s death.

The government of Maldives made much hype [6] about the World Press Freedom Day 2007, something ironic for a government with such a bad record on press freedom. The conference [7] that the government organized to mark the day ended with more embarrassing moments [8] such as when opposition journalists walked out when President Gayoom made his speech. A small protest by women activists outside the conference hall on the street was halted by police, who seized placards and threatened to arrest them if they did not leave the area.

Journalists in the Maldives are harassed and arrested by police during protests. In addition to the police, the judiciary works to suppress press freedom in the Maldives. The editor of most popular opposition daily faces charges [9] which could send her to jail [10]. Another journalist Fahala Saeed is serving a life sentence for allegedly possessing narcotics. As Saeed was summoned to the police station on a different issue, and the police made a check up of his clothes without his presence, and allegedly found the narcotics, it is easy to believe he was framed.

Cartoonist Ahmed Abbas has been recently released [11] after serving six months in jail for comments he made to Minivan Daily. The state alleged that the comments incited violence.

An International Press Freedom Mission to the Maldives including ARTICLE 19, international Federation of journalists (IFJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) and International Media Support (IMS), which visited the country in May 2006, issued an open letter [12] on this year’s World Press Freedom Day, expressing concerns over the state of media freedom in the Maldives.