The Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) is helping the Maldives Police Services in searching the Hulhumalé lagoon for signs of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, Home Minister Umar Naseer has said.
Speaking at a press conference at noon, Naseer said a team of 40 police officers, including senior officials, and MNDF divers are involved in the “top priority case.”
The Home Ministry did not inform or invite Minivan News to the press conference.
The police are conducting a land search of Malé’s suburb island Hulhumalé with court warrants and MNDF divers are conducting a search of the waters around the island, Naseer said.
Minivan News believes Rilwan, 28-years-old, has been abducted. Two eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw a man being forced into a car in front of Rilwan’s apartment building at knifepoint in Hulhumalé at the time Rilwan is believed to have gone missing.
“Such an incident happened and was reported to the police. But it is not yet established if the incident is related to Rilwan,” Naseer said adding that the police is considering multiple courses in its investigation.
He assured the Maldives media and the public the government is “taking all necessary steps.”
The police have now deployed all resources for the search, Naseer added. He also appealed to the public to come forward with any information and contact the police via emergency number 911, hotline number 3322111 and mobile number 9888999.
Rilwan was last seen on the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry on August 8. However, his family and friends only reported him as missing on August 13 as he is known to drop out of contact for a few days periodically.
When asked if religious extremists were involved in Rilwan’s disappearance, Naseer said “it is not the time point fingers at specific groups.”
Rilwan had received threats from online anonymous Islamist groups for his social media activity. However, he did not report having received threats in the week leading up to his disappearance.
Blogger and journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed had his throat slit in 2012 after publicly calling for religious tolerance. He narrowly survived, and has now sought asylum abroad. His attackers were never prosecuted and remain at large.
Security experts, with experience in counter terrorism, have told Minivan News that Rilwan was also considered a target.
Journalists and politicians have reported a spike in anonymous death threats in recent weeks. Authorities have failed to take any action regarding such threats.
The security experts have also alleged an alliance between radicals and gangs in the Maldives, as evident by a number of abductions in June. At the time, two men were briefly held and interrogated on their faith and accused of homosexuality and atheism.
The experts also suggested that many within the security forces had indeed themselves become radicalised – a claim previously made by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
On Friday (August 15), members of Rilwan’s family received phone calls and were also approached outside a mosque with anonymous warnings to call off the search efforts of around 30 friends and relatives.
International groups including the UN’s Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights (OCHR) have called for a speedy and thorough investigation.
The OCHR has also called on the authorities to address any threats and initimidation and “do their utmost to ensure that they are able to operate without fear for their safety.”
Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed in a tweet today said: “We give full assurance to the family & public that everything possible is being done to find missing journalist.”
Representatives of Minivan News today met with diplomats representing Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Switzerland and representatives from the EU delegation in Colombo regarding Rilwan’s disappearance.