A court has slapped a two-year ban on journalists who triggered the closure of the Maldives' only newspaper when they resigned en masse and set up an independent online publication over an ownership dispute.
The Civil Court ruled on Sunday that no former employee of the Haveeru Media group could work for any media outlet in the country for the next two years.
The move followed the mass resignation of Haveeru's staff in March after a court ruling forced its founder Mohamed Zahir Hussain to relinquish editorial and administrative control.
Haveeru had been pro-establishment, but had taken a more independent stance in recent years, earning the displeasure of the authorities.
The resignations forced Haveeru to cease publication of both its print and online editions.
The former employees then formed their own online publication called Mihaaru which is now threatened with closure after Sunday's court ruling.
‘This is an act of aggression by the state against independent and free media in the Maldives, and is part of a much wider and unprecedented crackdown by the government on media freedom,’ Ali Naafiz, Mihaaru's assistant editor, told AFP.
He said the former Haveeru staff had decided to defy the court order and continue to work for Mihaaru which appears in both English and the local Dhivehi language. The website risks being closed down if journalists refuse to stop working.
‘We will continue to work. Either they have to take away our licence or arrest us but we will continue to publish.’
President Abdulla Yameen's government has faced international criticism over its treatment of dissidents and the independent press in the Indian Ocean archipelago which is best known as an upmarket tourist destination.
The Maldives Supreme Court last week upheld a 13-year prison sentence on the country's first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed, who is now living in exile in Britain.
Nasheed was sentenced in March 2015 after he was convicted of a terror charge relating to the arrest of a judge in 2012 just before he was toppled as president.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that the Maldives' democracy is under threat, saying Nasheed had been ‘imprisoned without due process’.
Since Nasheed's jailing, several others -- including Yameen's former aide and deputy Ahmed Adeeb -- have been given long jail terms.
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