Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Maldives’ two presidential candidates to give a formal pledge to respect press freedom.
RSF made the call in a press statement on Wednesday after Maldives’ leading independent TV channel, Raajje TV, was forced to pay another record fine last weekend for allegedly defaming the president and threatening national security.
The NGO detailed that the record fine of 2 million rufiyaa (110,000 euros), which Raajje TV paid on 9 September, was imposed by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission a month ago for comments made by an opposition lawmaker during live coverage of a demonstration in March, just days before a state of emergency was lifted.
The fine was ordered under the Anti-Defamation Act, which forces media outlets to pay their pay fines within 30 days, regardless of whether there has been time to hear any appeal, they added.
The latest heavy fine is the fourth imposed on Raajje TV and brings the total sum paid to nearly 4 million rufiyaa.
RSF said this financial harassment is clearly a form of intimidation and a threat to pluralism and is all the more disturbing just days ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 23 September.
“The Maldivian authorities must stop this kind of pressure and allow journalists to cover the election campaign and the polling with complete freedom, or else this election will lack all legitimacy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We also urge the two presidential candidates to put press freedom at the centre of the democratic debate by giving three key undertakings – to repeal the draconian anti-defamation law, to prosecute those responsible for violence against journalists, and to revive the investigations into Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla’s disappearance and Yameen Rasheed’s murder.”
Maldives is ranked 120th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.