Maldives pro-opposition TV station set on fire

Vandals caught on camera busting into a TV station and torching a stairwell and control room.
October 8, 2013 7:19:32 AM PDT
Masked men broke into a pro-opposition television station in the capital of the Maldives early Monday and set fire that gutted the studio, according to security camera footage and its owner, in the second attack there in two years.

Security camera recordings show six men with their faces covered breaking open the lock of a metal door with what look like iron bars. Then they kick open a wooden door and enter the studio. Then they pour gasoline and after other men have gone one man sets fire and runs down the stair case.

A shorter clip shows a man wearing black mask pouring gasoline on a table with four computers and seconds later fire engulfs the room.

Akram Kamaludeen, owner of Rajje TV said the men on motorbikes threatened and chased away a security guard before the attack. Other offices in the building in Male were also damaged.

Kamaludeen said there was no evidence that pointed to a suspect. He said President Mohamed Waheed Hassan's government and his allies have been upset with the station's coverage.

The Maldives is facing political turmoil, with a court postponing a presidential runoff election that was expected to be favorable to MDP candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Last year, attackers broke into the TV station's building and cut cables, disrupting its broadcasts.

The station backs the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and authorities have barred it from covering government events.

"This is a dark day for press freedom in the Maldives," said Kamaludeen, saying police did not protect the station despite prior threats and has not investigating the previous attack. Police were patrolling the neighborhood at the time of the attack and are investigating how the group broke in, said police spokesman Hassan Hanif.

"This criminal act is a direct blow to freedom of information and we deplore the attitude of the police, who failed to do what was necessary to prevent the attack although the head of TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place," Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The group said the station resumed limited operations with the help of other media outlets by Monday afternoon.

On Sept. 7, President Nasheed secured more than 45 percent of the first round votes but fell short of the 50 percent needed. A runoff between him and his closest rival Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, brother of the country's former autocrat, was postponed by the Supreme Court after the third-placed candidate alleged fraud in the first round.

The court is expected to decide whether to annul the first round election later Monday.

Nasheed, who became the country's first democratically elected president in 2008 and ending a 30-year autocracy, was ousted last year after public protests over his order to arrest a judge.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also accredited to Maldives on Monday expressed concern about the television attack and urged authorities to bring those responsible to justice and end "political violence and retaliation."

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