Pro-Democracy Program to the Maldives Temporarily Closes
By Nick Grace
January 2, 2006
The cause of freedom and democracy in the Maldives has suffered a blow with the temporary closure of Minivan Radio, an independent and non-partisan radio program that has broadcast into the archipelago for the past 16 months, and the popular MinivanNews.com Web site. Both services, which began in September 2004, were put on hold on January 1st.
The closure follows a visit to the Minivan office in Sri Lanka by eight members of the Interpol division of the Sri Lankan police, according to Dave Hardingham, founder of the Friends of Maldives in the United Kingdom and whose group sponsored the broadcasts and Web site. In an interview on the ClandestineRadio.com podcast, Global Crisis Watch, he said that the visit stemmed from accusations by the Maldivian regime of sedition - that Minivan Radio was broadcasting without a license within Sri Lanka - and that its journalists were involved in an attempt to smuggle arms and weapons in the Maldives.
"After they searched the property and found no guns," Hardingham said, "the (Minivan) team was able to reassure them that nothing like that was taking place... It's basically the long arm of the Maldives police reaching over and trying to intimidate Minivan Radio and Minivan News to shut down."
Despite the accusations of sedition by the government of Maumoon Gayyoom, a dictator who has been in power since 1978, independent monitoring of Minivan Radio indicated that the program was broadcast from high-powered transmitters in Germany - not from Sri Lanka.
"They thought that we're broadcasting from (Sri Lanka) to the Maldives and obviously I don't think they quite grasp the technology behind short wave broadcasts," Hardingham said. "The team told them that this was where we produce the programs and it's then e-mailed on to another part of the world where it is broadcast... One of the team (members) there said, 'Look, as far as we are aware sending e-mail is not against the law.'"
Closure of the Minivan Radio program has been a priority for the regime. Within days of the daily one-hour program's launch in 2004 the regime unleashed two mobile high-frequency jammers in Male', the capital city, to block the signal. Despite the jamming, the radio program continued to be heard and listened to in Male'.
The accusations of sedition and gun running against Minivan are a sign of the effectiveness of the radio program. According to Hardingham, "Minivan Radio is listened to by a large percentage of the population. They listen to it every evening. It gives them international news. It gives them local news that's unbiased and independent... Its the like of which has never been seen before in the Maldives."
The Web sites of Minivan Radio and MinivanNews.com continue to be blocked from access inside the country. Under pressure by the international community to institute political reforms last year the government permitted Minivan to publish a newspaper in the Maldives, Minivan Daily, but has since arrested its journalists on drug charges. The cases are still pending. The regime has also arrested many high-profile and popular members of the pro-democracy opposition, the Maldivian Democratic Party.
Baseless accusations to intimidate the government's opponents and insulate the regime from both internal and external pressure is a frequent ploy used by Gayyoom and his circle. The regime in early 2005 accused this author of participating in an attempted coup in Male' and being a member of al Qaeda, according to sources in the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, based on the coverage of Minivan Radio on ClandestineRadio.com.
The government is frequently cited by human rights groups for the deficit of freedom in the Maldives and has even been cited by the U.S. Department of State for "serious problems" and its "poor human rights record."
Hardingham is optimistic that Minivan Radio and MinivanNews.com will resume operations soon. The service in the name of freedom and democracy, he said, is far too important and the loss of the evening short wave programs will have a strong negative impact on the regime's credibility inside the Maldives.
The interview with Dave Hardingham can be found at this location:
Global Crisis Watch, Clandestine Radio Watch and ClandestineRadio.com's weekly current affairs podcast, brings listeners to the front line on the War of Ideas and interviews people who are fighting tyranny and terrorism with the pulse of freedom.