COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Police in the Maldives have raided the office of one of the country's leading news websites shortly after a television documentary was broadcast that accused the country's president of corruption, money laundering and misrule.
Zaheena Rasheed, editor of Maldives Independent, said Thursday that her offices were raided by the police who produced a court warrant over an alleged "conspiracy to topple the government."
Police took away the security camera recordings and the computer hard drives in the raid on Wednesday.
"Given that it came just hours after the Al Jazeera documentary was broadcast, it was aimed at harassing us," Rasheed said.
Rasheed was among those interviewed for the documentary aired by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network. She said she left the country ahead of the broadcast after receiving repeated threats of prosecution under the country's tough defamation law.
"Investigating reports of incitement to violence. Buildings checked under court warrant, one among them housing Maldives Independent," Maldives police said in a tweet.
The Al Jazeera documentary alleges that President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his now estranged former deputy Ahmed Adeeb were involved in corrupt deals involving islands and lagoons allocated for tourist resort development.
The president's office said in a statement that the documentary was defamatory based on interviews given by people who themselves are wanted for corruption investigations and by political opponents who have said that they want to overthrow a legitimate government.
It said the producers did not follow the best practices in reporting and had not given the government an opportunity to respond.
The Maldives, a South Asian archipelago known for its luxury tourist resorts, have been rocked by political turmoil in recent years, and last month its parliament passed a law that criminalizes defamation and allows for jail terms and steep fines for media outlets, journalists and social media users.
Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule, but Gayoom has taken a stranglehold on power since his election in 2013. He is accused of manipulating the judiciary, police and bureaucracy to concentrate power and stifle the opposition.
At least four senior politicians — a former president, a former vice president a former defense minister and a political party leader are among those who have been given lengthy jail terms after trials criticized for a lack of due process.
The government is also accused of failing to investigate the case of a journalist went missing two years ago and is suspected to have been abducted. Also two media outlets have been shut down this year which critics say is the result of government pressure.
Adeeb, Gayoom's former deputy, is also in prison after being convicted of plotting to kill the president.