The Maldives Police Services have said finding Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla – believed to have been missing since August 8 – is of “high priority.”
The police held a press conference at 9pm on Sunday night (August 18) and confirmed Rilwan has been seen on CCTV footage wearing black near to the Friday mosque at 12:40am and later around 12:45am at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé.
However, head of Serious and Organised Crime Department Chief Inspector Abdulla Shatheeh revealed no new information on Rilwan’s disappearance.
According to phone records, Rilwan’s last phone call was made at 10:19pm on August 7 and his last phone activity was at 2:30am on August 8, possibly in the Henveiru ward of Malé.
The phone location conflicts with evidence that points to Rilwan having boarded the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry, including a tweet made at 1:02am reporting seeing local actor Yoosuf Shafeeu onboard the ferry.
Minivan News asked the police if phone records show Rilwan using his phone in Hulhumalé that night, though police declined to comment saying investigations are ongoing.
The police also declined to comment on whether Rilwan may have left the ferry terminal after arriving there. Shatheeh said police are considering all evidence and following all leads.
A police team has been conducting a search in Hulhumalé for the past three days, Shatheeh said, adding that regional police stations have been informed of Rilwan’s disappearance.
The chief inspector called on the public report any new information and pledged protection to any informers or witnesses.
Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen’s Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government is “deeply saddened and concerned” over Rilwan’s disappearance.
President Yameen and Muaz are both in China on an official state visit at the moment.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) also expressed concern over Rilwan’s prolonged disappearance and called on law enforcement agencies to expedite investigations.
The party also called on the public and its supporters to support the search.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile held a protest outside the United Nations (UN) head office in Malé on Saturday night calling for assistance in the investigation of Rilwan’s disappearance.
Speaking at the demonstration, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy called on the UN to “pressure” the government to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.
“We call on the UN to provide cooperation to all of us, the Maldivian people, in investigating [the disappearance] because we are certain that the government of Yameen Abdul Gayoom cannot investigate the abduction of people, intimidation of journalists, intimidation and death threats to members of parliament, and death threats to ordinary citizens,” Imthiyaz said.
Imthiyaz noted that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has brought the matter to the attention of UN and that the MDP has alerted the international community over the disappearance.
“We know that the only party to stand up when the rights of the Maldivian people are violated is the MDP,” he said.
The MDP would not sow discord in society or incite strife, he added, but was protesting over a real and serious issue.
“The reason we suspect that a journalist has been abducted is because that journalist himself has previously received death threats. And the journalist had told the paper that he had been followed,” he said.
He also referred to death threats sent to a number of journalists via text message earlier this month as well as the arson attack against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV and near-fatal assault of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.
“We don’t see a full investigation being conducted into any of this or [police] finding those behind [the attacks]. This is why we want to bring this to the UN’s attention,” he said.
Fahmy said he had also raised concerns at a workshop organised by the UN yesterday.
While writers who criticised the government were jailed without due process in the past, Imthiyaz contended that journalists were facing the same intimidation and fear after the “toppling” of the MDP government in February 2012.
The government should properly investigate Rilwan’s disappearance “if only to show” that it was not involved, he continued, and called on the police and the Maldives National Defence Force to launch a joint search operation to find Rilwan.
“MDP wishes for the blessing of Allah and for success in the efforts of Rilwan’s friends and family [to find him],” he said, adding that the MDP would do “whatever we can” to ensure that the missing journalist is found.
A free press was essential for good governance, he said, accusing the government of attempting to undermine to “destroy” free media out of fear that its “atrocities” would be exposed to the world.
After rising to 51st in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index in 2009 under the MDP government, Imthiyaz noted that the Maldives plummeted to 103rd “after the coup government took over”.