CPJ urges govt to release arrested journos

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Maldives authorities to immediately release three opposition aligned Raajje TV journalists who were arrested during their coverage of anti-government protest in the capital on Friday.

"The government in the Maldives must respect the constitutional rights of all citizens to freedom of speech and stop using the police to censor coverage of protests," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney.

"Police must immediately and unconditionally release the three Raajje TV journalists."

Police are detaining reporters Mohamed Fazeen and Mohamed Wisam, who were arrested while covering the protests, and Amir Saleem, the station's head of programming, according to Raajje TV.

Police had later said the trio were arrested over an ongoing investigation which is believed to be in connection to the videos shared on social networking sites in which a group of masked people dressed like police said they planned to join the anti-government rally.

The 'officers' appearing in the video had also claimed that the government's failure to fulfill their demands would be met with a police mutiny on April 1.

Police had confirmed the arrests but had refused to name the suspects.

The videos were released amid a series of arrests in the wake of increasing rumours of a revolt within the police and military ranks.

Opposition has also claimed that several soldiers have been detained inside the army barracks.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

As the state of emergency expired, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

President Yameen is facing mounting international pressure after exploiting the rights suspended under emergency state to crackdown hard on the opposition as police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, three lawmakers, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's uncle Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.