Maldivian police raided the offices of a newspaper in Male after an Al Jazeera documentary with corruption allegations against President Abdulla Yameen went on air,Male-based journalists said on Thursday.
The documentary, titled Stealing Paradise , accuses President Yameen and his government of money laundering to the tune of $1.5 billion, charges that the Maldivian government denied in an official statement.
The government said it was “disappointed by the allegations” made in the documentary and requested the Doha-based broadcaster to submit all the evidence it had.
Wednesday’s raid at the offices of The Maldives Independent, a 12-year-old newspaper reportedly linked to former president Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), comes amid growing criticism over apparent media repression in Male. Earlier this month, the Maldives legalised criminal defamation, a move that, the Opposition said, sought to curb media freedom and stifle dissent. There was no official comment from the police on the raid.
Speaking to The Hindu on Thursday, the newspaper’s editor Zaheena Rasheed said the raid was carried out based on a court warrant for an enquiry into a conspiracy to topple the government. She left the country a week ago due to security concerns. “We believe it is an act of harassment and we are extremely concerned about it,” she said, requesting that details of her current location be withheld.
‘Stealing Paradise’, made by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, was released on Wednesday and has since been shared widely on social media. Will Jordan, who led the five-month-long investigation, told The Hindu in an email interview from London: “We worked very discreetly as we are well aware of the attitude towards journalists shown by the government of the Maldives.” Mr. Jordan was a former editor of The Maldives Independent.
“Sadly the release of ‘Stealing Paradise’ has only led to the government intensifying its crackdown on journalists and threatening to now screen every foreign journalist who applies for a visa,” he said. Niyaz Ibrahim, a former Maldives auditor-general, who in the documentary charges the Yameen regime of corruption, is said to have left the country on Wednesday.
The Maldives has witnessed political unrest since 2012, when the island’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed was ousted. Mr. Nasheed, who subsequently sought asylum in the U.K., was recently in Colombo amid reported efforts towards a possible regime change in Male. He has returned to the U.K., but sources close to the former president said they were closely observing developments in Male. Opposition to the Yameen administration is growing by the day, they said.