Former editor Zaheena Rasheed credits the award with increased press coverage outside of the Maldives, and attracting a larger pool of candidates for the editor position. Most significantly, Rasheed told Index that the attention from the award convinced their sponsors to continue funding them.
After an Al Jazeera documentary containing interviews with Rasheed was released, the Maldives Independent’s office was attacked and raided by police in September 2016 and Rasheed had to flee for her safety. She has since taken a role at Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.
“The job has been very busy, but exciting, especially following a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbours,” Rasheed told Index. In her absence, the Maldives Independent has been searching for a new editor. Riazat Butt will take over as editor in mid-September.
In late April, Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and journalist, who had contributed opinion pieces in the Maldives Independent, was murdered. His death is still on the minds of those at Maldives Independent, which extensively covered the investigation into his murder.
“Yameen was a critical and brave voice who spoke out against injustice despite the crackdown on free speech. His murder has had a chilling effect on free speech in the Maldives and prompted many others to practice self-censorship. I believe he was targeted by religious extremists because of his advocacy for a more tolerant and secular society”, Rasheed said. No information has been released on the identities of the suspects in Rasheed’s murder or what charges they might face.
Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared in August 2014. Despite the international attention these incidents have received, Rasheed is not confident that they will affect the culture of impunity that exists around attacks on critics and freethinkers.
“The biggest concern, as evident by Yameen’s murder and Rilwan’s disappearance, is that there are groups who are willing to kill in the name of Islam. They enjoy impunity because they have the protection of state bodies. State officials support them for two reasons; they think supporting radical groups bolsters their legitimacy, or they also subscribe to these views” Rasheed said.
Rasheed identifies the Maldives Independent’s biggest challenge as a lack of leadership, which she hopes will be resolved once Butt steps in as editor. Securing consistent and sufficient funding is also a priority, something which Maldives Independent is working on now.