MALDIVES

Maldives police raid media offices after Al-Jazeera documentary accuses president of graft

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2016, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2016, 3:46pm

Police in the Maldives raided the offices of a local media organisation just hours after a documentary aired accusing President Abdulla Yameen and his government of corruption, journalists said on Thursday.

Police searched the seven-storey building housing the Maldives Independent website whose editor was quoted in the Al-Jazeera documentary aired on Wednesday night detailing high-level graft allegations.

We believe the search was part of an attempt at intimidation
Maldives Independent journalist

“We believe the search was part of an attempt at intimidation,” a Maldives independent journalist told AFP. “They looked at rooms and even the toilets, but took only a broken CCTV unit.”

There was no immediate comment from the police.

The documentary is the latest twist in a protracted political crisis that has dented the Indian Ocean archipelago’s reputation as an upmarket holiday destination and raised international alarm about an erosion of democracy.

Al-Jazeera said the documentary was based on data including emails and text messages it had obtained between key officials of Yameen’s administration allegedly implicating them in graft and other criminal activity.

The editor of the Maldives Independent left the country before the documentary aired, fearing the government would slap charges against her under a tough defamation law.

Former Maldives auditor-general Niyaz Ibrahim, who alleged in the documentary financial irregularities under the Yameen regime, also reportedly left the country on Wednesday night fearing persecution.

Yameen’s government labelled the documentary disappointing, saying it mostly contained allegations revealed in an official report by Ibrahim that were already being probed by Maldives’ authorities.

“The Maldives government would request that all evidence obtained by Al-Jazeera be handed to the Maldives Police Services or the Anti-Corruption Commission so as to assist it with their own investigations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.

Maldives police arrest 16 independent journalists in ‘crackdown’ on freedom of speech

The Stealing Paradise documentary, by Al-Jazeera journalist Will Jordan, a former editor of the Maldives Independent, shows what it says are leaked messages from former vice-president Ahmed Adeeb’s phone to various officials discussing payments.

In June, Adeeb was jailed for 15 years on a charge of plotting to assassinate Yameen – part of a sweeping crackdown on opponents, most of whom are in jail or exile.

The good, bad and ugly sides of the Maldives

Yameen’s administration faces international criticism over the crackdown along with the jailing last year of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed who has since obtained asylum in Britain.

The Maldives last week issued an arrest warrant for Nasheed for failing to return to the nation to complete his jail sentence after receiving medical care in Britain.

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Nasheed was among members of several exiled opposition groups meeting in Colombo last week to plot a strategy to topple Yameen, according to sources. He returned to London earlier this week, sources told AFP.

The country has been gripped by political turmoil since Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012 following a mutiny by police and the military. Nasheed was sentenced to prison in 2015 on a terror-related office.