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Maldives in Constitutional Crisis: Freedom of speech and of media - killed and buried by President Nasheed

Male', Maldives.

Freedom of speech and freedom of media, both guaranteed in the Constitution, are two of many constitutional casualties of President Nasheed's prolonged struggle to remain in power. Opposition politicians continue to be interrogated and arrested for making public statements negative to President Nasheed, while private media have been repeatedly threatened by Government Ministers and police and military.

These arrests come in support of a campaign by President Nasheed's militant party Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) called, "Can't Say That", overtly to stop rising public outrage at President Nasheed's anti Islamic policies and action. However, the campaign has now explicitly shifted to attack all those who raise their voices against President Nasheed's unconstitutional arrest of Senior Judge of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Nasheed's arrest of Judge Abdulla has sparked widespread civic protests against Nasheed and his government. The protests are now into the 10th day.

Judge Abdulla was abducted from his home by Nasheed's military on January 16th and has been kept incommunicado at a military camp since. Military have repeatedly refused court orders to present Judge Abdulla to court for hearings on his arrest. Maldivian law, based on Islamic Sharia principles, prevent the courts from beginning court proceedings in absentia of either proponent or defendant.

Today, Maldives police served a summons to two more opposition leaders to appear at police headquarters for interrogation in an investigation of an undisclosed matter. Leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Dr. Hassan Saeed and interim Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Umar Naseer are the last in a row of opposition politicians who have been interrogated by police for making public statements which police allege incite the public and endanger public peace and national security.

Politicians who have been interrogated by police have been kept for hours either in police headquarters or at the police detention centre on Dhoonidhoo island. These include Leader of Adhaalath Party (AP) Shaikh Imran Abdulla, Deputy Leader of (AP) Dr. Mauroof Hassan, Deputy Leaders of DQP Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Abdul Matheen, Parliamentary Leader of PPM Abdulla Yaameen, PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof, member of PPM interim council Maaz Saleem, and member of DQP Council Mr. Ahmed Ibrahim Didi (Sandhaanu Ahammaidi).

Of these AP Leader Shaikh Imran, AP Deputy Leader Dr. Mauroof, DQP Deputy Leader Dr. Jameel, PPM MP Mahloof and PPM Interim Council Member Maaz Saleem have been arrested by police on separate occasions. They were later released upon court orders which found the police arrests unconstitutional.

Intimidation and threats against media also began under the nominal reason of preventing repeat of unsubstantiated statements on President Nasheed's anti-Islamic policies and actions.

Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim (of the powerful MDP clan DIK), Home Minister Hassan Afeef (a hardcore MDP MDP until he lost the last parliamentary elections), Communications Minister Adil Saleem (who came to public attention via a widely distributed porn video of him and his wife) and Youth Minister Hassan Latheef have taken the lead in media intimidation.

These Ministers, have at various times, directly and indirectly threatened the media and media associations and councils with closure, cancellation of broadcasting licenses and legal action if they report states by any party deemed to be inciting the people or endangering national security.

Cabinet level threats have been supported by Military Chief Moosa Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh. Moosa Jaleel has gone so far as to send a warning letter to all media that he would close down any media which reported anti-government sentiments. Faseeh has sent police officers to threaten staff at media stations during broadcasts and also brought in media personnel for interrogations of the same ilk as against opposition politicians.

Military and police forces at the civic protests have refused to provide protection for media reporters, even ordering them away from protest sites. Police even refused to assist a reporter who was injured two nights ago in an attack by Nasheed's MDP against the civic protestors. The injured reporter told media that police officers ignored his please for help even as he was lying on the ground with his arm broken.

His MDP attackers surged out of the MDP Meeting Hall where MDP Interim Chair Reeko Moosa and MDP Vice President Alhan Fahmy were delivering hate speeches under the "Can't Say That" campaign.

At the same time, Maldives Police have not yet investigated any hate speeches by MDP politicians nor interrogated any speakers on MDP podiums who have repeatedly called for violence and attacks against the civic protestors and their leaders. The fact that these hate speeches are prompted by President Nasheed is evident given the fact that last week Nasheed himself led an MDP rally last weekend at which several MDP leaders such as Alhan Fahmy, Mariya Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy and Minister Hassan Latheef made intimidatory threats against the Chief Justice and opposition party leaders.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem went one step further last night, when at the "Can't Say That" podium, he incited MDP thugs into violence against former President Gayoom and his followers, stating that he had personally seen inmates being brutally beaten and being killed in prisons during Gayoom's regime. He concluded saying, "Gayoom is also responsible for the current protests. The man cannot be left free. Gayoom must be immediately arrested".

Article 27 of the 2008 Constitution assures that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam".

Article 28 states that "everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person".

Tomorrow's police interrogation of DQP Leader Dr. Saeed and PPM Deputy Leader Naseer is yet another stake by Nahseed into the constitutional freedom of speech and media.

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