Sunday marks five years since the gruesome arson attack on RaajjeTV, leading news and current affairs station in the Maldives.
On 7th October 2013, RaajjeTV’s main studio was destroyed in an arson attack, as well as its control room, cameras, computer systems, broadcasting and transmission equipment.
The attack came during the 2013 presidential elections, on the same day the Supreme Court made a ruling on whether to allow the elections to go ahead.
The first round of the election was held a month prior to the attack, but was later annulled by the Supreme Court, referencing a confidential police report.
A re-run of the first round was held on November 9, while the run-off round was held on November 16.
The annulling of results and alleged misuse of the judiciary and independent institutions had triggered a number of protests in the country, especially in capital Malé City.
As there were no restrictions to freedom of assembly and speech at the time, these protests had continued till around 2-3am the next day.
RaajjeTV journalists were on the field covering these protests, night after night, with the sole aim of keeping the public informed.
They were subject to harassment and threats; it is important to note that earlier that year, RaajjeTV’s then head of news had been attacked with an iron rod, and it is no short of a miracle that he is alive and well.
Furthermore, there had been multiple reports of possible arson attacks on the station, which were appropriately filed at the Maldives Police Service, but to no avail.
The station’s journalists and camera crew concluded the night’s coverage and headed home after 2am on October 7, except for two journalists. They had stayed back as one was planning to spend the night at the studio as she lives in Hulhumalé and the ferry service between Malé and Hulhumalé was halted till 6 am. However, as the other journalist was still there, she luckily was at the main office with him at the time of the attack. One cannot even begin to imagine what could have happened to her, had she been there when the attackers barged in.
CCTV footage shows them dragging the Bangladeshi security guard stationed at the building, he was knifed as well.
Not too long after, the two RaajjeTV journalists are to have heard a loud bang and saw flames when they looked outside the window .
By the time the fire was controlled, late in the morning, the station’s control room and equipment were destroyed beyond use.
Even during that time, the station’s journalists were reporting via its website and official twitter accounts, and by 2pm on 7th October, RaajjeTV restarted transmission.
Al Jazeera’s award-winning documentary ‘Stealing Paradise’ in 2016, which exposes various corruption allegations against incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, alleges that the arson attack on RaajjeTV was ordered by then tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who was later elected as Vice President.
I was already working at RaajjeTV at the time of the attack, and there is one thing that I have not been able to get out of my head ever since. On the night of the arson attack, as I was walking towards Chaandhanee Magu- where the protests were being held- with some of my colleagues, I ran into a ruling party member, someone who has since been elected to the People’s Majlis and was a close associate of Adeeb.
He asked me “are you still at work at this time?” and when I replied “of course”, he added “it is not safe to stay at the office this late at such a time”.
While I have tried to make sense of this for the past five years, I have yet to figure out what he meant.
It has been five years since then. There has been no justice despite the extensive CCTV footage; court hearings are halted, investigations remain incomplete and authorities continue to ignore the fresh threats against the station, including calls to burn the station down again, at ruling party rallies.
Hence, saying that that the station had worked in the same environment during the 2018 presidential election will not be an exaggeration.