Criminal Court today sentenced RaajjeTV journalists Leevaan Ali Naseer and Mohamed Wisam to pay a fine of MVR 28,800 each, having been proven guilty of charges of obstruction of Police duties.
The verdict was announced Tuesday afternoon. Criminal Court also decreed that the journalists have a month’s period to pay the fine.
Speaking to press after the hearings, lawyer Abdullah Haseen said the defense intended to file an appeal on the case. RaajjeTV Chief Operating Officer (COO) Hussain Fiyaz Moosa also reiterated the decision, adding that the verdict was an “unacceptable” one.
While the hearing was not closed off to the public, only a limited number of journalists were granted access to the Court.
A statement released by RaajjeTV yesterday clearly stated the trials were conducted on baseless accusations with the sole intent of hindering RaajjeTV operations and journalism. The statement went on to add that their journalists were united in their commitment and will defend their mandate. Separate cases had been filed against four journalists from RaajjeTV.
Both Wisam and Leevaan do not have any past criminal records. In spite of this, the prosecution had pressed for a jail sentence of four months and 24 days.
The case has come under severe scrutiny both locally and internationally. Institutions such as Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had called on the Government of Maldives to revoke the cases filed against journalists. RaajjeTV’s statement had also condemned Broadcasting Commission and Maldives Media Council for failing to protect the rights of journalists, with the said bodies seeking to punish and hinder journalism.
Speaking at the launch of the event held yesterday to protest the baseless trials on the channel’s journalists, COO Fiyaz said RaajjeTV and the station’s journalists had been singled out for persecution. He said the cases have scant legal grounds. A verdict based on these grounds, he said, will only serve to intimidate journalists and hamper journalism.
Fiyaz, who is due in Court on 29th of this month, said journalists from state allied media, had been exempted from the charges, even though they were arrested as well. He also expressed concern over inaction by media regulatory bodies, while a media station was under very real threats.
He also said the journalists did not obstruct Police duties, but rather it was the other way round.
RaajjeTV’s News Director Ali Yoosuf said the cases and possible verdicts were a definite loss to the station. However, he said the journalists were fulfilling their legal mandate. While the cases were baseless, he said the journalists were heroes, adding that their valor was commendable.
Many members of public and journalists have expressed solidarity with the journalists and the channel, penning messages of encouragement on the board placed outside of RaajjeTV.