The Maldives police force must “intensify efforts” to find those responsible for death threats, abductions, and violent attacks against journalists, politicians, and civil society activists says Amnesty International.
“The Government of the Maldives is obliged under the international human rights instruments it has ratified to ensure the security and physical integrity of all persons,” said the Human Rights NGO in a statement released yesterday.
Amnesty went on to list the large number of incidents from recent months, including the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan 71 days ago, and an attack on the outlets’ premises in September.
“In particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, require ensuring the protection of all people from abductions, death threats and attacks.”
A number of abductions by vigilante gangs targeting perceived secularists in June were followed by threats made against journalists attempting to report on a rise in gang-related violence at the start of August.
Rilwan – who himself had reported on these threats – was last seen on the ferry to Hulhumalé on August 8, just minutes before a man fitting his description was seen being forced into a car outside his apartment.
Tension in the capital Malé rose again in late September following the release of a private investigative report into Rilwan’s disappearance.
The report, commissioned by local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network, suggested that radicalised gangs were the most likely culprits in a number of potential lines of inquiry detailed.
Police labelled the investigation “irresponsible” and “politically motivated”, suggesting it had violated the human rights of those involved and vowing to take against against those involved in the report’s compilation.
A series of death threats followed the release of the report and the subsequent media coverage. One individual mentioned in the report was arrested following the attack on Minivan News offices before being released by police the following day.
The offices of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were also attacked a number of times, while the party’s MPs were threatened and homes attacked. The party has described recent threats to its MPs as being too many to mention.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union has described the authorities’ response as a test of the country’s democracy, while the EU has expressed concern over “mounting gang violence and signs of increasing religious intolerance” in the Maldives.
Police are working with local telecoms companies to identify the source of the threats although the Communications Authority of Maldives has said the use of foreign networks and computer software would make the culprits harder to trace. Threats sent to MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed while in the UK this month have resulted in the involvement of the UK’s metropolitan police.
After continued criticism of the police’s investigation from both Rilwan’s family and international groups, four individuals were taken into custody earlier this month in connection with the disappearance, although three have since been released.
Police have yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry into the disappearance and have previously stated that there was no concrete evidence linking Rilwan and the reported abduction in front of his apartment.
Speaking with Vaguthu last week, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed accused both the family and local media of impeding the investigation.
“Certain media has acted in ways which has caused the police investigation to lose some of the leads we had so we urge the media to not do their own investigations into the case,” said Waheed.
“If Rilwan’s family and the media acted responsibly we would be seeing a better outcome than what we are seeing right now,” he told Vaguthu.
When Minivan News requested a similar interview with the police commissioner, it was informed that scheduling issues would not make this possible during the coming weeks.
The past eight days have seen a further number of attacks on the MDP during its tour of the southern atolls. 16 men were arrested following attacks on a party rally in Feydhoo, though all were subsequently released without charge.
The party’s offices in Addu were also attacked by arsonists following the disrupted rally.