IFJ Protests Repression of Internet Dissidents in the Maldives

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, today expressed concern over the continued crackdown on Internet dissidents and the curtailment of freedom of expression in the Maldives.

"The continued harassment of those who express dissent is a matter of deep concern," said IFJ President Christopher Warren

According to our information, Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi, Fathimath Nisreen and Naushad Waheed were recently arrested following a demonstration by several thousand protesters on 12 August 2004 in the capital, Malé, says CPJ. The protesters had called for democratic reform and for the release of political prisoners. Didi and Nisreen had attended the protest and addressed the crowd. The demonstration was broken up by police using tear gas and a state of emergency was imposed shortly thereafter by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Access to the Internet has also been restricted.

Ahmad Didi, Ibrahim Luthfee, and Mohamed Zaki, founders, editors and writers for the Dhivehi-language Internet publication Sandhaanu were arrested along with their secretary Fathimath Nisreen in late January 2002. They were held in solitary confinement until their trial in July 2002 when they were found guilty of "defamation, incitement to violence, and treason". Didi, Luthfee, and Zaki were sentenced to life imprisonment and one year of banishment for defamation, and Nisreen received a 10-year prison sentence, with a one-year banishment for defamation. Their victimisation is believed to be because of their independent publication, which criticised the government for alleged abuse of power and corruption and called for political reform. Luthfee, who managed to escape from prison, is now living in exile. Mohamed Zaki is reportedly suffering from a bladder condition which is not being treated.

Zaki, Didi and Nisreen were on medical leave from prison when they were arrested. The two other prisoners of conscience, Naushad Waheed, a painter sentenced to 15 years in prison in October 2002 for sending e-mail messages containing information about human rights violations in the country, and Ibrahim Fareed, an Islamic scholar with moderate religious views, are reportedly being held without charge or trial. They have been in detention since December 2001 and May/June 2002 respectively.

While welcoming the move of setting up the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into instances of human rights violations in September 2003, and the establishment, in December 2003, of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives "with a mandate of protecting and promoting human rights in the country," the IFJ declared that these steps will be meaningful only after the prisoners of conscience are released.

"The detention of Zaki, Didi, Nisreen and Waheed are in gross violation of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression," said Warren, appealing to the government to immediately release these prisoners and drop all charges against them.

For more information contact Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 100 countries

Please click here to view the media release on the IFJ Asia-Pacific Regional Website: