No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan
An open forum titled ‘Silencing Dissent: The Abduction of a Young Journalist in the Maldives’ is due to take place in Melbourne, Australia tomorrow (October 9) to raise awareness about the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
The event was organised by a group of concerned Maldivians residing in Australia and will be held Thursday 7:00pm Australian time at the Victoria College of the Arts, according to a press release from the #FindMoyameeha campaign.
“One reason why we are holding this forum is to keep Rilwan’s story alive,” explained Khadeeja Naseem, a member of the organising team.
“From what little we’ve heard so far it is highly likely that Rilwan’s disappearance is a forced one. By telling it far and wide – even in distant places like Australia – we hope to ensure that more hear about Rilwan’s story and that such sad events are never repeated.”
The forum will feature a series of talks and presentations from Rilwan’s family and friends about the journalist’s suspected abduction as well as challenges to freedom of expression in the Maldives.
Rilwan has been missing for 61 days and is believed to have been abducted at knife point outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé around 2:00am on August 8.
The organisers of the forum noted that Australia was “a close development partner of the Maldives” and has provided scholarships to dozens of Maldivian students and assisted with capacity-building of the Maldives Police Service through training and support.
“As an important bilateral partner, we feel that Australians can bear on the Maldives government to do more in the efforts to find Rilwan,” the press release stated.
“Although independent sources have pointed at evidence indicating Rilwan was forcibly abducted, the authorities, especially the Maldives Police Service has been reluctant to offer any substantial information on Rilwan’s whereabouts or how the investigation has been proceeding,” reads the Facebook page for the event.
“This is the first time a journalist has been disappeared in the country, and it is a shock for Maldivian society, despite the rise in murder and violent crime during the last decade.
“Rilwan’s disappearance is yet another tragic link in a series of events where journalists, democracy activists and proponents of free speech have been continually threatened and harassed. More significantly, these events are symptomatic of the reversal of the democratic gains Maldives has made in the past decade.”
Suspects in custody
In late September, police arrested four suspects in connection with Rilwan’s disappearance. While the Criminal Court has since released one of the suspects from remand detention and transferred a second to house arrest, two suspects still remain in police custody.
In a press statement on October 2, Rilwan’s family called on the police “respectfully” to share findings of the investigation and update the family, friends and wider public on progress made so far.
“Every day and night that passes without the truth of the case being revealed is filled with questions, anxiety, and deep sadness for the family,” the statement read.
Following the arrests last week, both Rilwan’s family and human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) welcomed the “progress in the police investigation”.
“The Criminal Court’s extension of their detention signifies progress in the investigation,” said MDN.
MDN released an investigation report last month implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.
The investigation report by Glasgow-based Athena Security confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” of Rilwan at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé conducted by two known affiliates of Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang. One of the suspects was identified as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.
Minivan News understands Shiran is currently in police custody for unrelated charges.
Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the report said gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction was a “strong possibility”.
The report noted increased radical activity among members of three main gangs in Malé – Bosnia, Kuda Henveiru, and Buru – and claimed members had participated in attacks against individuals they deem “un-Islamic”.
Rilwan had “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his outspoken criticism of religious extremists, the report said.
One man named in the report vandalised Minivan News office’s security camera on September 25 shortly before two others buried a machete in the building’s door.
A Minivan News journalist received death threats after the incident, which read, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”
While police arrested a 32-year-old suspect on charges of stealing the security camera – who was clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage – the Criminal Court released the suspect with conditions the following day.