Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Maldives government to deploy all necessary resources to find missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.
Minivan News strongly believes Rilwan was abducted in the early hours of August 8. The paper has received multiple eyewitness statements claiming they saw a man being forced into a car at knifepoint around 2 am on August 8 in front of Rilwan’s building.
“We are extremely worried by Rilwan’s disappearance and urge the authorities to step up their efforts to find him as quickly as possible,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
“There is every reason to be concerned about Rilwan, especially as gangs and religious extremists are very often responsible for threats to journalists. Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a freelance journalist known for his support for religious tolerance, only narrowly survived a murder attempt in June 2012.”
The press freedom advocacy group said they are “very concerned” about Rilwan’s disappearance and has urged “the Maldives authorities to deploy whatever resources are necessary to find him.”
The Maldives Police Services at a press conference on Sunday night said Rilwan’s case was of “high priority,” but declined to reveal details of the investigation.
CCTV footage from the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, obtained by Minivan News, shows Rilwan entering the waiting area at 12:44am wearing a black shirt.
A tweet from Rilwan’s account @moyameeha at 1:02am implies he was on the one oclock ferry, suggesting he would have reached his apartment building between 1:30am and 2am on August 8. Another man who claimed to have sat next to Rilwan on the ferry has also been identified entering the ferry terminal at 12:45am on CCTV footage.
Neighbors claimed they heard screaming and rushed out on to their balcony. They saw a man being forced into a vehicle, from just 20 feet away.
The abductor described as a tall thin man dropped something on the ground as he got into the car after the captive. The car sped off, its door still open, eyewitnesses said.
A third neighbor went down to the street and found a knife on the ground. He subsequently notified the police, who took statements and confiscated the weapon.
Minivan News understands no other person has been reported missing from Hulhumalé.
Security experts with experience in counter terrorism have alleged an “unholy alliance” between gangs and religious radicals following a number of abductions in June, and told Minivan News Rilwan has been considered a target for his outspoken views.
Rilwan regularly reports on religious issues, politics and the environment.
The RSF has ranked Maldives 108th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.
The downgrading came after Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death in February 2013 and the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.
A staggering 84 percent of journalists in the Maldives in May reported receiving threats, from political parties, gangs and religious extremists.