MPs today expressed concern with the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and called for an expeditious investigation during a debate on a motion without notice submitted by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.
Presenting the motion, Imthiyaz said the authorities were neither adequately investigating the disappearance nor sharing findings with the family or the public.
“[Rilwan] disappeared [11 days ago] while journalists were being sent death threats very openly and while [Rilwan] was also facing various forms of intimidation regarding his reporting,” reads the motion.
Imthiyaz referred to the MDP bringing to the government’s attention the abduction and intimidation of alleged advocates of secularism by a vigilante group in early June, noting that no action had been taken to date.
MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”
“Malé has become a jail in broad daylight, full of fear. Now since the threats started being sent, the first person, a journalist, has been abducted. In the future, you will see many MPs being brutally murdered. It is being planned and executed now,” he claimed.
Imthiyaz meanwhile noted that the case has been submitted to three parliamentary oversight committees “to hold the government accountable” regarding the investigation.
Imthiyaz revealed that he received a text message threatening to “behead” him after he submitted the motion yesterday.
He slammed the government for failure to provide security for MPs in the face of death threats and intimidation.
Referring to Minivan News reporting eyewitnesses seeing a man in dark clothes being forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment around 2am on August 8, Imthiyaz questioned police’s failure to investigate the incident after it was reported.
“So there is room for us to suspect that police are aware of this and are deliberately not investigating,” Imthiyaz said.
Imthiyaz’s urgent motion was accepted for debate with bipartisan support after 51 MPs voted in favour. One MP, however, voted against the motion, which opens the floor for a one-hour debate on matters of urgent public importance.
During the debate, opposition MPs criticised police efforts to find Rilwan as sluggish and lacking seriousness, whilst pro-government MPs defended and lauded the police.
While Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs insisted that police were doing everything possible, MDP MPs contended that public safety was no longer assured in the Maldives.
However, all MPs stressed the seriousness of the case and extended sympathy to Rilwan’s family, praying for his safe return and wishing success in the search effort’s of family and friends.
PPM MP Abdulla Rifau noted that police have searched Hulhumalé for three days and advised against “obstructing” the investigation with unwarranted speculation.
He added that the ruling party had put out a press statement expressing concern and calling for a swift investigation.
Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem suggested conducting awareness raising programmes and teaching self-defence to children and adolescents.
PPM MP Abdulla Sinan said any hinderance or threat to those who impart information was “unacceptable.”
Rilwan had been expressing his “independent thought,” he continued, which “sometimes conflicted with some of our tenets and bases”.
However, he added, there should be an unfettered environment for free media in a democracy.
PPM MP Ahmed Ameeth – a former DhiTV presenter – said journalists were in a state of fear and warned that Rilwan’s disappearance would adversely affect press freedom.
Liberal versus conservative interpretation of Islam
Referring to media reports claiming former President Mohamed Nasheed spoke against enforcing Islamic Shariah, PPM MP Ahmed Thoriq said neither journalists nor former presidents could “work against the tenets of Islamic Shariah in this country.”
“While journalists against capital punishment are going missing, this is something we should really think about,” the former football star said.
Thoriq criticised Minivan News for reporting updates on the investigation before police revealed information to the public and urged sharing information with the police.
“If [they] want to be the paper that breaks every piece of information the quickest, in truth it is likely that the person they are looking for might not be found,” he said.
Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain meanwhile suggested fostering a national debate on the issue of disagreements concerning Islam, arguing that there was “a clash” between a conservative or “literalist” interpretation and a more “liberal” interpretation.
Rilwan’s disappearance was the result of “intolerance” between the two schools of thought, he contended, advising changes to the curriculum to inculcate tolerance.
“We have to teach how to live with people of different opinions. We cannot establish the democratic environment we want without doing so,” he said.