Pravda in the Maldives

SO now the Maldivian government has taken control of state television and radio and announced a requirement for there to be a daily printed state newspaper . . . just as there was in the Soviet Union during the days of communism under the likes of Breshnev and Stalin.

Too much coverage was being given to the awful plight of Mohamed Nasheed, the unfairly jailed ex democratic president of the country, so the top dogs have in their wisdom created a new “governing board” that will ensure that standards of journalism are maintained to prevent such errors of judgement occurring again.

Of course, it all reeks of absolute desperation.

With mass protests against the treatment of Nasheed – imprisoned on ridiculous charges of “terrorism” – planned for Friday (May 1), the government has grabbed control of television channels to censor the pictures that might get out to the world.

What are they afraid of letting slip?

Well for the past few days, as photographs have revealed on the internet, soldiers in riot gear have been carrying out vigorous exercises as though they are preparing to unleash their worst on whoever moves their way. Take a look on Twitter and the message is clear: “Step out of line and we will stamp down hard.”

It’s not entirely clear whether these pictures were taken to make this point, or whether they were clandestine and subsequently leaked. But they are chilling, however they came to be. And surely, you cannot help but think, deeply disturbing for anyone who happens to be on holiday in the Maldives at the moment.

In advance of Friday’s mass protest many boatloads of Maldivians from distant atolls have already arrived in Male, the capital, to lend their voice to calls for an end to the current “tyranny” (the organisers’ apt description) of the government of the country. As many as 25,000, or more, could take part.

Not only are opposition figures concerned for their safety at the hands of overzealous soldiers, but also from hired thugs who are believed to have been co-opted to stir up trouble . . . giving the soldiers an excuse to steam in and do their worst.

This would not make the best publicity for President Yameen (half-brother of the former autocratic leader President Gayoom, who ruled the archipelago for 30 years).

Might this be behind the decision to take control of the TV stations ahead of time?

It’s difficult not, at the very least, to speculate on the point.

As I said, it’s desperate stuff. Especially so when most people have mobile phones with good video cameras and can post images beamed around the globe in an instance.

Twitter feeds such as @EthicalMaldives and others issuing messages showing the “Sunny Side of Life” (a holiday slogan for the country) with police grabbing people in previous smaller protests are already available.

A member of parliament representing the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives has said that the state has taken charge of broadcasting channels as there was too much coverage of the campaign to free Nasheed. He complained that not enough attention was being given to the hard day-to-day work of President Yameen . . . who must, it seems, be feeling sorely overlooked.

The writer George Orwell once said that “freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. It appears that the top dogs have heard too much and are ready to issue a stream of propaganda designed to censor the truth.

It won’t work. It didn’t in the Arab Spring – dubbed the “Facebook revolutions” by some.

President Yameen should give it up before it’s too late, set Nasheed free, prevent any potential trouble ahead of time, re-establish legitimate politics, and reap the benefits of tourism in the future (because holidaymakers will not be around for long if this keeps up).


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