Maldives: Cyber-dissident Mohamed Zaki freed

RSF has cautiously welcomed the release of cyber-dissident Mohamed Zaki after two years in prison and 19 months under house arrest. The organisation also called on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to send a "positive signal" to the world by freeing other journalists still being detained, including two arrested several days ago.

Zaki, who helped run the e-mail newsletter "Sandhaanu", was freed on 18 August 2005, two months after the release of another "Sandhaanu" staff member, Fathimath Nisreen. He told RSF he had been freed unconditionally and that he would not otherwise have agreed to his release. He said he would keep on fighting even if he was thrown in prison again because "freedom of speech cannot be sacrificed."

He was jailed in January 2002 and then put under house arrest in January 2004 because he was partially paralysed by a back problem.

Zaki, along with Ahmad Didi, Ibrahim Lutfy and his assistant Nisreen, were arrested in January 2002 for producing the newsletter, which criticised human rights violations and corruption. Zaki, Didi and Lutfy were accused of libel and supposedly trying to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life in prison on 7 July 2002. Nisreen, who was only 22 at the time, received a 10-year sentence.

Lutfy escaped on 24 May 2003 and now lives in Switzerland. Nisreen was amnestied by President Gayoom on 9 May 2005. Didi has been under house arrest since February 2004. His sentence was reduced to 15 years in 2003, as was Zaki's.

Press freedom in the Maldives has been attacked many times in recent weeks. Two journalists – Ibrahim Rasheed, managing editor of the weekly "Adduvas", and a journalist with the daily "Aafathis" – were arrested recently. An online opposition publication, "Minivan News", has also been banned and an arrest warrant issued for its editor, Aminath Najeeb (see IFEX alert of 17 August 2005).