The family of journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla have offered a reward of MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for information leading to the successful return of the 28-year-old, missing for 15 days.
“We feel that this investigation is very slow compared to the seriousness of the problem,” explained Rilwan’s brother, Moosa.
“And the government is not taking this seriously.”
Moosa called on anyone with relevant information to contact the family on 7791120 or 7773250.
Following criticism of President Abdulla Yameen’s response to questions regarding the disappearance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Thursday evening (August 21) expressing “deep concern”.
Rilwan was last seen on the Malé-Hulhumlé ferry in the early hours of August 8, less than an hour before neighbours reported seeing a man forced into a vehicle outside his home.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon also expressed concern regarding acts of intimidation and reprisals to journalists in general.
“Freedom of media facilities a greater degree of interconnectedness and awareness in the community, and is the cornerstone of any democratic society. Therefore, the protection and safety of journalists is fundamental not only at an individual level, but at a national and international level as well,” read the statement.
Rilwan’s disappearance has prompted media outlets across the political spectrum to band together, with a joint statement calling for an end to a persistent culture of media intimidation expected later today.
All media outlets involved in the statement are now prepared to call Rilwan’s disappearance a case of abduction.
“We are very grateful for all journalists’ support,” said Minivan News News Editor Zaheena Rasheed, who has spearheaded the coalition of concerned journalists.
“Rilwan’s disappearance comes at a time of continued intimidation of the press. We want to send out the message that we will not allow such intimidation to continue.”
Threats made against journalists covering gang violence in June followed a series of attacks on media facilities and personnel over the past two years.
The attempted murder of blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 was followed by the near-fatal beating of journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed and the later arson attack on his employer Raajje TV in 2013.
No convictions have been made in relation to any of these incidents, although two men are currently on trial for the Asward attack.
Following Rilwan’s disappearance, threats against media personnel have continued, with discussions amongst journalists revealing an extended and pervasive campaign of intimidation cutting across political party lines.
Police raided a number of residences in the capital Malé on Thursday evening though police told local media that they were unable to reveal whether the searches were in relation to the missing journalist.
The Home Ministry last week assured that Rilwan’s disappearance had been given “high priority”, with a team of 40 officers now working alongside divers from the Maldives National Defence Force in the search.
A statement released by police on Wednesday (August 20) called for an end to public criticism of its investigation.
“It is with regret we note that some politicians and media outlets have been spreading false information that leads public to feel concerned about police work,” read the statement.
“Although the police did not provide every detail of every measurement taken by the police or every work police did, for security reasons, the police have provided details to adequate people.”
After interviewing witnesses regarding the abduction, Minivan News delayed publication after consultation with police, for the above reasons. After publication by other media outlets, however, Minivan felt compelled to release sufficient details to the public to make clear the nature of the case.
“The police advises not to politicise the issue concerning the missing journalist and not to spread information that will lead people to be concerned of police work, to all the politicians and media outlets that work as such,” continued the statement.
Numerous international groups, including the UN Office for the Commissioner of Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders, have expressed concern over the disappearance and called for a swift response from authorities.