The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has expressed concern over the human rights situation in the Maldives, as well as the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
“We are also concerned by reports that parliamentarians, human rights advocates and journalists have recently been the target of death threats, and by the disappearance and apparent abduction of one journalist on 8 August,” said Minister of State at the FCO Hugo Swire.
Swire’s comments came in response to a written question submitted by Conservative Party MP Karen Lumley.
The minister expressed concern over freedom of religion, rule of law, and women’s rights, as well as reports of death threats made against a number of politicians and MPs in recent months.
Former health minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela is the latest to have reported having received death threats. Similar messages have been received by multiple journalists and politicians, including Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.
Rilwan, 28-years-old, was last seen on the Malé-Hulhumalé ferry on August 8, just minutes before his neighbours saw a man fitting his description forced into a car outside his apartment.
“Officials at our high commission in Colombo, which is also accredited to the Maldives, have raised concerns on human rights, as well as the recent threats and this reported disappearance, with the Maldives Government,” reported Swire.
“We have also urged them to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted as appropriate. The Maldives Government has expressed deep concern following the disappearance, and noted that they are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Maldivians,” he continued.
While Rilwan’s disappearance has been highlighted by many international groups – including the UN, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists – the FCO’s comments mark the first time the case has been mentioned by a foreign government.
There is little information regarding Rilwan’s disappearance despite a MVR200,000 reward being offered by his family and a petition signed by 5000 people submitted to the People’s Majlis.
The petition called upon the legislature to find answers to questions regarding the police’s investigations. Similar concerns regarding the investigation’s progress have been raised by the Human Rights Commission and civil society groups.
After police released a statement on Thursday night (August 4) – claiming it had questioned 318 individuals, interrogated 111, and searched 139 locations – Rilwan’s family voiced concerns over the case’s progress.
“These are just statistics. We want to find him. We want the police to tell us if they have leads, if there is progress,” said Rilwan’s brother Moosa.
“We want to know what the results of these extensive searches are. It’s been a month, my family and I fear for his life.”