Maldives must pursue murderers of journalists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”108902″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship calls on the Maldivian authorities to step up their investigation and pursue the individuals behind the murders of the journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and blogger Yameen Rasheed.

“The government of the Maldives must do all it can to uncover and bring to justice all those responsible for the murders of Ahmed and Yameen. Their pursuit of truth in the public interest led to their murders at the hands of criminals bent on silencing their work,” Perla Hinojosa, Index Fellowships & Advocacy Officer, said.

Rilwan’s disappearance in 2014 shook the Maldives, when he was forced into a car at knifepoint outside his home on the island of Hulhumale and taken in a boat out to sea where he was killed, according to Husnu Suood, the head of a Maldives presidential commission set up to investigate the case. Suood said the people who murdered Rilwan, also murdered his friend Rasheed, who was leading a campaign to find Rilwan. 

At the time of his abduction, Rilwan was reporting for the news website now known as the Maldives Independent, which was named the winner of an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship in journalism in 2017.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1567498421448-a2c7a885-6928-8″ taxonomies=”6534″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Press freedom in Maldives: “I honestly think it is too soon for anyone to relax”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”89549″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]After five years the president of the Maldives may be on his way out — but no one is celebrating yet.

The Indian Ocean island nation voted on Sept. 23, 2018 to oust sitting president Abdulla Yameen in favor of challenger Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who won 58 percent of the vote. The message? They were done with Yameen’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Yameen came into power in 2013 and has jailed or forced many of his political opponents into exile. He’s restricted protests and reduced media freedom, all while boosting corruption in the government with bribes, embezzlement and human rights abuses.

The Maldives Independent, winner of the  2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Journalism Award, is one of the few independent news organisations left in the country. In 2014, Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, known for criticising the government, went missing. He has still not been found. Many believe Yameen’s hand played a role in his disappearance and the subsequent lack of investigation.

Two years later, Yameen signed a criminal defamation law that created fines and jail sentences for slander or defamatory speech, speech threatening “social norms” or national security, and remarks against Islam. The law was criticised by the United Nations and the United States, both calling it a move against freedom of expression.

Yameen’s biggest accomplishments have been in development, building an extension to a public hospital in the capital, new airports, and the country’s first overwater bridge. But behind these projects was even more corruption, critics say.

In 2016, Al Jazeera exposed a major scandal in which Yameen and then vice-president Ahmed Adeeb leased islands to tourism companies and embezzled the money for themselves. Zaheena Rasheed, then editor-in-chief of the Maldives Independent, appeared in Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary. Hours after the documentary went online, police raided the news organisation’s offices. Rasheed has since fled the country.

Addressing the embezzlement at a debate a week before the election, Yameen pointed his finger at the former vice president and “the system” as the cause behind the corruption, denying any wrongdoing.

With a platform based on restoring democracy and freeing Yameen’s political prisoners, Solih represents a new leaf for the nation.

Riazat Butt, current editor of the Maldives Independent, called the two candidates “night and day.” And though Solih may want to make significant changes in the government, Butt said three out of four of the parties in the coalition backing Solih have shown little interest in democracy.

“The opposition alliance has not said what will happen if the coalition falls apart,” Butt said. “There is an agreement they have to sign about steps to be taken in such an event, but the agreement has not been made public and the president-elect’s spokeswoman is refusing to answer questions on it.”

On top of the issues Solih may face within his coalition, Yameen is not going down without a fight.

The leader of Yameen’s party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives, launched an investigation into complaints regarding the authenticity of the ballots cast, citing “systematic irregularities.” The party has asked the Elections Commission to delay publishing the final results and has reportedly told their supporters to submit electoral complaints to the commission.

The move has been denounced by the opposition party and the Human Rights Watch, who say it is an attempt to annul the election.

“Yameen has too much to lose to just step aside,” Butt said. “He may find a non-violent way to steal the election after all….he just needs to do it in a way that avoids sanctions and military action against him.”

On Oct. 10, Yameen challenged the election results in the Supreme Court. If the Court finds proof of irregularities, the election could be annulled.

Meanwhile, members of the Elections Commission have received anonymous threats due to their dismissal of the ruling party’s claims of fraud.

If Solih is able to secure the presidency and move his coalition government into power, it may not result in much change regarding journalism in the country. Butts called the coalition manifesto “fantastically vague” about press freedom. Though journalists have asked for specifics, like if the anti-defamation law will be repealed or if background checks for foreign journalists will end, they have not received answers.

“There is no detail, and that’s not good enough,” she said. “I honestly think it is too soon for anyone to relax or believe that their job will become easier or safer.”

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Do crime writers tell us more truths than travel writers?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Crime writers have less to lose than travel writers in describing the underside of holiday spots, argues Rachael Jolley in the summer 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine.” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][vc_single_image image=”101057″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]

When you read a novel, it takes you on a journey to a different time or place. Being an avid reader of crime fiction, my early journeys to Chicago were in the company of Sara Paretsky. I walked the streets with her VI Warshawski. We shot down North Michigan Avenue and headed out to Wrigley Field for the fifth inning. Chicago opened up to me in those books – not always gloriously.

Donna Leon showed me around the small islands of the Venetian Lagoon and Ian Rankin has taken me on numerous tours of the dark closes of Edinburgh, as well as its swankier New Town.

Crime writers have less to lose than many other authors in describing the underside of the cities. After all, their readers don’t expect a fairytale, and their escapism is a different kind from the happy-ever-afters of the perfect beach-read.

Perhaps we get more accurate portrayals of cities or countries by crime writers than in guidebooks or from travel apps.

Take Mexico and the Maldives, for instance. These are sexy holiday destinations, popular with everyone from honeymooners to scuba divers. But when thousands of holidaymakers are packing their sunscreen and swimsuits, do they know of the catastrophic numbers of journalists killed in Mexico in the past few years? Or how journalists in the Maldives are fleeing in fear of their lives?

Ad-hoc, non-scientific research, through the medium of asking friends and family, suggests not. And when that information is received, it is with some shock.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”custom” align=”right” custom_color=”#dd3333″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”The results are stark. Many top tourism destinations do terribly on freedom of expression.” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017

The other side: Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017

Mexico is ranked 147th out of 180 in the 2018 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, down from 75th in 2002. During this period, tourist numbers have continued to go up. Meanwhile, 4.6% of the government’s annual spend continues to go on tourism, significantly more than is spent in Brazil and New Zealand, for instance.

Travel and tourism delivers 6.9% of Mexico’s GDP, compared with 3.3% of Brazil’s and 5.1% of New Zealand’s.  No wonder, then, that Mexico’s government is prepared to invest in tourism, and to keep that tap firmly switched on.

Informed tourists could be a powerful pressure point on governments that have been practising repression of those voices raised in criticism, or that don’t bother to pursue the criminals who threaten or kill those voicing dissent.

At this year’s Hay Festival, I was on a panel with Paul Caruana Galizia, son of the murdered journalist Daphne, as well as Malta journalist Caroline Muscat of The Shift News, and BBC Europe editor Katya Adler. Paul talked about his mother’s work, the pressures she was under and how she pursued her investigations. We discussed the wider situation in Malta, where 34 libel cases against Daphne have, since her death, rolled over to the rest of the family. During the question and answer session, some members of the audience said they had no idea about what was going on in Malta, even though they went there on holiday, and asked what they could do to help.

Paul suggested that anyone holidaying on the Mediterranean island might mention being aware of the case to local people they met. The island was dependent on tourism, and if the Maltese felt this could be affected there would be more pressure on the government to alter its attitude, and legislation, on media freedom.

He also believed the Maltese government was much more worried about international attitudes than local ones.

In places where freedom of expression is under pressure – and Malta, the Maldives and Mexico are just a few of them – tourism is often a valuable asset. So visitors who are aware of the wider situation could be advocates for change.

According to analysis of travel, tourism, financial and freedom-of-expression data carried out for Index on Censorship magazine by Mark Frary,  there are indications that some tourists want to know more than whether or not a destination has a good beach before they head off on holiday.

Data on travel patterns suggest that travellers also “reward” destinations that change legislation or the environment, his analysis suggests, with Argentina picking up significant tourist numbers after it became the first South American country to make gay marriage legal.

In this issue, we have asked reporters around the world to dig into the details of popular holiday destinations to look at their records on freedoms, such as the right to protest, the right to debate and freedom of the media. The results are stark. Many top tourism destinations do terribly on freedom of expression.

In post civil war Sri Lanka, there was a period of hope after the election of Prime Minister Maithripala Sirisena in 2015. Many hoped that this beautiful island could have a future that was less violent, more equal and more open. Those hopes are now looking tarnished. As Meera Selva reports for the magazine, the country’s tourist numbers grew spectacularly in 2017. But while tourists flocked in, the great improvement was not going as well as Sri Lankans had wished.

The prime minister has reactivated the Press Council – a body with the power to imprison journalists –  and civil rights activists report threats against them. In this potential Eden, the garden is not as green and pleasant as predicted.

Pretty beach paradise Baja California Sur is a popular holiday destination, particularly for Americans. But not many will know that it also has the second-highest murder rate in Mexico, behind the western state of Colima, according to government data. The dangers of being an investigative journalist there are particularly high, with some living under 24-hour protection, as Stephen Woodman reports in the magazine. Again, this is a place where many (probably most) tourists are unaware of the fuller picture of the place where they are happily enjoying the sunshine.

As someone with a heritage collection of guidebooks from publishers including Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Footprint, it is easy for me to flick through the pages and see that those guides have made a fair effort to inform readers on questions of human rights, politics and safety in the past.

But guidebooks are carried by far fewer travellers these days. According to the Financial Times, from 2005 to 2014, 9% fewer travellers left the UK but guidebook sales fell by 45%.

With most people looking to the web for all their holiday information, are they finding themselves as well-informed as they would have been with a well-thumbed book under their arm?

An April 2018 travel section article about Malta’s capital Valletta on The Guardian’s website doesn’t mention the politics or human rights record of the island. Nor, as far as I could find, did the Lonely Planet website section on Malta. While, of course, it would be possible to find news about those issues on different parts of The Guardian site, or elsewhere on the web, it’s certainly not connecting the dots for travellers.

With the printed travel sections of newspapers under pressure from advertisers – and far smaller than they were a decade ago – there is little space to create in-depth reports, and travel articles that include gritty details as well as the delights seem few and far between.

At the upcoming Index magazine launch and summer party on 4 July, our panel of experts will discuss what responsibility authors might have to tell their readers about the good, the bad and the ugly sides of any destination. It should be an interesting evening, chaired by BBC World reporter Vicky Baker, who also writes for Guardian Travel. If you would like to join us, email [email protected] to grab a free ticket.

And since we are just back from the Hay Festival, we can also recommend our special Hay Festival podcast, where deputy editor Jemimah Steinfeld chats to three authors about taboos. Catch it on

Finally, don’t miss our regular quarterly magazine podcast, also on Soundcloud, including an interview with the founder of the Rough Guides, Mark Ellingham. Come by and visit us.

The latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, Trouble in Paradise, Escape from Reality: what holidaymakers don’t know about their destinations is out now.  Buy a subscription. Buy a print copy from bookshops including BFI, Serpentine  and MagCulture (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), and Red Lion Books (Colchester), or via Amazon. Digital versions available via or iTunes.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row content_placement=”top”][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Trouble in paradise” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]The summer 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine takes a special look at how holidaymakers’ images of palm-fringed beaches and crystal clear waters contrast with the reality of freedoms under threat

With: Ian Rankin, Victoria Hislop, Maria Ressa [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”100776″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″ css=”.vc_custom_1481888488328{padding-bottom: 50px !important;}”][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]In print, online. In your mailbox, on your iPad.

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Annual appeal: “We no longer feel so alone”

Staff at the Maldives Independent taking part in self-defence training.

Staff at the Maldives Independent taking part in self-defence training.

“This award feels like a lifeline. Most of our challenges remain the same, but this recognition and the fellowship has renewed and strengthened our resolve to continue reporting, especially on the bleakest of days. Most importantly, we no longer feel so alone.”

– Zaheena Rasheed, former editor Maldives Independent, 2017 Journalism Fellow

Silence is the oppressor’s friend. Harassing those who speak out against corruption and injustice – like this year’s Freedom of Expression Awards Fellows Maldives Independent – is the favoured tool of those who seek to crush dissent. We cannot let the bullies win.

With your help, each year we are able to support writers, journalists and artists at the free speech front line – wherever they are in the world – through Index Fellowships. These remarkable individuals risk their freedom, their families and even their lives to speak out against injustice, censorship and threats to free expression.

I am writing now to ask you to support the Index Fellows. Your donation provides the support and recognition these outstanding individuals need to ensure their voices are heard despite the restrictions under which they are forced to live and work.

Your support will help award winners like Maldives Independent, which has continued to provide independent and critical journalism despite continued government pressure, threats of closure and the tragic murder of prominent liberal blogger and close friend of the Maldives Independent Yameen Rasheed in April, just a few days after the Freedom of Expression Awards 2017.

In spite of these challenges, Index has worked closely with Maldives Independent to help them to get on a better footing financially, to secure their office and staff, and to help them continue to hold power to account and expose wrongdoing and corruption in the country.

Reflecting on Index’s help, ex-editor Zaheena Rasheed said: “Sometimes you don’t realise how working in the kind of environment that we are working in and facing the kind of personal and professional challenges and losses that it, it can take a toll, and I think for me it [Index’s help] has been really helpful because I realise in many ways that I do need some help.”

I hope you will consider showing your support for free speech and the Index Fellows. A gift of £500 would support professional psychological assistance for a fellow; a gift of £100 helps them travel to speak at more public events. A gift of £50 helps us to be available for them around the clock. You can make your donation online now.

Please give what you can in the fight against censorship in 2018. Make your voice heard so that others can do the same.

Thank you for your support.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO

P.S. The 2018 Index on Censorship awards will be held in April. To find out more about the awards including previous winners, please visit:

Index on Censorship is an international charity that promotes and defends the right to free expression. We publish the work of censored writers, journalists and artists, and monitor, and campaign against, censorship worldwide.