The space for freedom of the media in the Maldives has sharply deteriorated in recent months, leaving President Ibrahim Solih’s government with little to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day, May 3.
After taking office, Solih was posed to turn over a new leaf on press freedom. Despite years ranking as one of the worst countries for media freedom in Asia, in 2021 the Maldives rose to 72nd place in the World Press Freedom Index. Today, that trend has reversed, with the Maldives dropping 15 places in 2022 amid fears of a further decline this year.
Among the reasons for fewer media freedoms: Maldivian authorities have failed to live up to their promise to amend a controversial new law that would compel journalists and media outlets to reveal their sources. Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups condemned the law when the government enacted it last year. The so-called Evidence Bill, which came into effect in January 2023, can result in jail sentences of up to three months for journalists who fail to comply.
This March, an amendment was proposed to the elections law that, if adopted, would prohibit journalists who don’t work for a registered media outlet or broadcasting service from reporting on the upcoming presidential elections. Efforts like these to quash independent reporting and monitoring jeopardize free and fair elections in the Maldives.
Journalists and media outlets have also faced rising police violence and harassment. In February, police officers assaulted journalists Hassan Shaheed and Ahmed Misbaah while covering a protest held by the Progressive Party of Maldives in the capital, Male. Civil society organizations condemned the police for excessive use of force and called for an investigation. A month later, on March 16, police assaulted a reporter covering a rally in Male and then detained him overnight. Meanwhile, editors from the news outlet Dhauru have received anonymous death threats – all allegedly politically motivated – for their reporting.
Solih should make World Press Freedom Day a day for celebrating, not despairing, freedom of the press in the Maldives. He should strive to create a climate in which journalists can carry out their work without fear of attack or reprisal.