Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Over the past several years, a modest expansion of media diversity has been met by official crackdowns and harassment of journalists. Freedom of expression and of the press are not provided for in the constitution and are generally not respected by the government in practice. The legal environment remains harsh: The penal code bans speech or actions that could “arouse people against the government”; a 1968 law prohibits speech considered libelous, inimical to Islam, or a threat to national security; regulations make editors responsible for the content of material they publish; and authorities are empowered by law to shut newspapers and sanction journalists for articles containing unfounded criticism of the government. The Press Council, which is composed of lawyers, media representatives, and government officials, is mandated with reviewing lapses of journalistic conduct. In a positive move, legislation passed in July 2005 liberalized the registration process for newspapers, and since then, 6 daily newspapers and 11 other publications, some with an oppositionist slant, have been registered. The Information Ministry, which is spearheading reform efforts, submitted four media-related bills to Parliament in February 2006, including bills on freedom of information, press freedom, a proposed Media Council, and registration of print media. However, the government announced in November that it was retracting previously announced plans to allow private broadcasting.
Journalists, particularly those who cover political events or demonstrations or who write critical stories, continue to be subject to arrest or other forms of harassment, including death threats, from government officials and allies of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. On May 3, international press freedom monitors were assaulted by riot police and local journalists were arrested during celebrations to mark World Press Freedom Day. In November, foreign journalists covering the arrests of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists were forced to leave the country, while cartoonist and MDP official Ahmed Abbas was arrested after being charged with criticizing police brutality in a cartoon. Abbas claimed that he never received a summons to attend his trial and was not allowed to present a defense. Owing to Minivan News’s overtly oppositionist stance, its management and employees have faced the brunt of official intimidation. A number of staff have been detained or subject to house arrest for extended periods, and others face criminal charges; journalist Abdullah Saeed was convicted of alleged drug possession and trafficking in May and was sentenced to life imprisonment, while his colleague Mohamed Yushau was held on terrorism charges from May to July. Ahmed Didi, the founder and one of four employees of the internet magazine Sandhaanu who were arrested in 2002 and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, was released from house arrest and pardoned in February. In this environment, many journalists practice self-censorship and remain reluctant to overtly criticize official policies.
All broadcast media continue to be government owned and operated, and while these outlets have recently provided more diverse coverage, they continue to reflect pro-government views. Most major print outlets are also owned by those connected to the government, but some publications, such as the weekly Adduvas and the newly registered Jazeera and Hamma, have generally adopted a more critical, balanced tone. The pro-opposition Minivan News, which started as an online publication, began publishing a print version in the Maldives in July 2005, but after the August protests, the printing house refused to continue publishing it under pressure from the authorities.
Groups of Maldivian exiles run independent news outlets in the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka and attempt to transmit news into the Maldives via shortwave radio stations and websites. Although the country’s sole internet service provider is state owned, the internet is generally not restricted and was accessed by less than 7 percent of the population in 2006. However, the websites of the MDP and other pro-opposition news websites have been blocked by the government and are inaccessible from internet cafés in the capital, Male, and internet connectivity has occasionally been suspended altogether in the wake of political disturbances.