The home minister has acknowledged gang involvement in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, while accusing politicians of obstructing the investigation.
“We already knew that there is a gang connection to Rilwan’s case. However, in a modern investigation, one doesn’t immediately arrest suspects. We leave them free and follow them and gather information,” he explained during an interview on state television yesterday.
“The biggest cause of obstruction to this investigation is the MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party],” Naseer said, accusing the opposition party of being behind a private investigator’s report released by local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN).
Rilwan was last seen on CCTV footage at the Hulhumalé Ferry Terminal in the early hours of August 8. Friends and family have alleged his disappearance to have been an abduction, based on evidence in CCTV footage and eye witness accounts.
The MDN report, produced by UK based private investigators Athena Intelligence and Security, implicated gangs – possibly motivated by religious extremism – in the disappearance 73 days ago.
“The release of the report forced us to change our investigation technique. We had to hurry the arrests, which led to early release of suspects. It is the biggest hindrance to the investigation so far,” said Naseer.
Four individuals were arrested following the report’s release, though three were later released.
“It has an extreme negative effect on an investigation when people who are not aware of the details of an investigation release reports and offer speculations based purely on hearsay with the intent of gaining some political advantage.”
The minister said that the report had named some suspects who are members of notorious gangs that the police had also already identified. MDN maintains that the report was released with the objective of aiding the police in the investigation.
Police have yet to confirm the nature of their investigations, stating that they have gathered no “concrete evidence” linking Rilwan with a reported abduction outside his apartment the same night.
Naseer concluded his remarks on Rilwan by stating that he believes the 28-year-old remains alive as the abductors have so far left no indication that they have taken his life.
Family concern dismissed
Rilwan’s family has continuously expressed concern regarding the lack of information received from the police regarding the investigation’s progress.
Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed went on the offensive last week, telling local news outlet Vaguthu that the family and certain media organisations were partially responsible for the lack of success in the investigation.
Naseer yesterday dismissed the family’s concerns, saying that police were giving regular updates to the family, and that he had personally met with the family at least four times to share information.
“I personally meet with the investigation team once a week and get an update on progress. I also give them advice on how to proceed with the case,” Naseer said, adding that the government sees the disappearance of Rilwan as a high priority.
President Abdulla Yameen has yet to comment publicly on the case, beyond his dismissal of questions regarding the case in August, although the foreign ministry has expressed concern.
Naseer went on to say that, despite spending state resources, funds, and time on the case, the police have so far been unable to get any answers in the case.
“I must say that sometimes things just happen this way, we just don’t get ahead. For example, consider the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which disappeared with over 200 passengers. The whole world is looking for it, but no one has a clue as to where it may be. And then we are talking about one man, Rilwan,” he said.
“Things and people that go missing are sometimes just not found easily. We can use all the available resources in a country and even then, there is only so much we can achieve. However, in this case, we have not given up and will continue trying,” Naseer continued.
No police negligence, no state involvement
Umar also dismissed allegations of police negligence involved in the case.
When questioned about police actions following the reported abduction near Rilwan’s residence on the night of his disappearance, Umar said people were speculating that it is police negligence “due to the lack of information they have”.
He affirmed that police had promptly investigated the matter, even without knowing at the time whether it was related to Rilwan’s disappearance.
Naseer also dismissed allegations of state involvement in Rilwan’s disappearance.
“This is MDP’s way of comparing this case with that of Ablo Ghazi [Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed]”, he alleged.
“No one has forced Rilwan’s disappearance. Ablo Ghazi was abducted by the MDP government with the aid of the MNDF. Rilwan is someone who disappeared and we are trying to find,” he explained.
“We are trying to find Rilwan. We were only made aware of this case after Rilwan disappeared. The government has no involvement in this disappearance. This is, in fact, the first disappearance of its kind that has occurred in the country.”
“We are considering the disappearance of Rilwan as a criminal act and are investigating it to the best of our abilities,” he assured the public.