Failure to prosecute serious crimes tantamount to “state-sponsored terrorism,” says Nasheed

The government’s failure to investigate and prosecute serious crimes is tantamount to “deliberate state-sponsored terrorism,” contends former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a statement issued yesterday on the occasion of International Human Rights Day (December 10), the opposition leader accused senior government officials and elements of the police of complicity in abductions, murder, arson attacks, and gang violence.

“I note that the government has not investigated such incidents that have occurred throughout the year and serious criminals are on the loose. The state has not pressed charges against them,” the statement read.

Nasheed argued that the government’s inaction has caused harm and undermined fundamental rights, calling on the public to “find courage from each other for justice and stand up against inhumane torture.”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was formed to change the old system of governance and bring an end to ill-treatment and torture inflicted on citizens by the state, the statement observed.

“Custodial abuse was stopped under the MDP’s first government. Maldivians began to find hope and courage,” it continued.

“[But] the flame of hope is again flickering out.”

At a rally held last month to celebrate the current administration’s first year in office, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to crack down on violent crime and implement the death penalty.

“We have peace and order in Malé and all regions of Maldives. We have peace. However, this is not to say that isolated and significant dangerous crimes do not occur,” he said.

Unresolved cases

Nasheed’s statement went on to list serious crimes that have occurred in 2014, stressing that the perpetrators have not been brought to justice in the majority of the cases, including the stabbing of former MDP MP Alhan Fahmy on February 2.

An expatriate lorry driver was stabbed and robbed of cash and a mobile phone on January 25, the statement continued, while two days later, three men were stabbed in separate incidents in the capital Malé.

On February 3, a minor was assaulted with a wooden plank near the Adi Park in the Henveiru ward of the capital and sustained head injuries.

While suspects were taken into custody in some of the cases, Nasheed noted that none of the arrests led to criminal prosecution.

On April 12, former Gender Minister Dr Amaal Ali was robbed at knifepoint at her residence.

“On April 4, 2014, a 79-year-old was stabbed in Gaaf Dhaalu Thinadhoo,” the statement continued. “On May 18, 2014, Mohamed Naeem, of Baa Hithaadhoo Thiraa, was stabbed and injured in an assault inside a guesthouse in Malé.”

On July 31, a 35-year-old man was stabbed to death on the island of Thulusdhoo in Kaafu atoll and the suspect voluntarily submitted to police.

Two days later, two young men were stabbed in Malé, resulting in the death of 18-year-old Mohamed Mazin while undergoing treatment for stab wounds.

In the previous week, four men and a woman were assaulted in separate incidents. While one man was mugged in the Maafanu ward, two men were stabbed in Hulhumalé, a woman was stabbed in the back in the Galolhu ward, and a fourth victim was stabbed in the Henveiru ward.

On August 23, two men and a minor were assaulted and stabbed by masked men on motorcycles in the Dhidhi Goalhi in front of Iskandhar School in Malé.

One of the victims, Ahmed Aseel, 19, later died as a result of injuries sustained in the assault.

Police intelligence suggests that the spate of violent assaults in Malé since the beginning of Eid Holidays were gang reprisals “caused by a disturbance between two groups,” Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh told the press at the time.

More recently, a man was injured in a violent assault on October 3, a group of girls were attacked with a chain in Raa Madduvari on October 9, and a young man was stabbed near the police tow yard in Malé on October 26.

During the past month, two men were stabbed in a café in Malé on November 2 and a young man was assaulted with an iron rod in the Galolhu ward of Malé on November 16.

Earlier in the day, an 18-year-old man was arrested after entering the Bilabong International High School with a machete during a gang fight.

On December 7, a 28-year-old man was stabbed to death in Malé near the People’s Majlis building.

Nasheed also referred to the suspected abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan 125 days ago, accusing the government of both negligence in investigating the disappearance and covering up the abduction.

Moreover, in June, a vigilante mob abducted several young men in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism.

Nasheed noted that police did not investigate the incidents despite media reports.

“During the past year, press freedom and freedom of expression have declined. Intimidation of journalists and youth active on social media have become commonplace. The government has obstructed peaceful political activity,” the statement read.

In October, Amnesty International called on the government to “intensify efforts” to find those responsible for death threats, abductions, and violent attacks against journalists, politicians, and civil society activists.

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Amnesty calls on Maldives police to “intensify efforts” into cases of threats, violence, and abductions

The Maldives police force must “intensify efforts” to find those responsible for death threats, abductions, and violent attacks against journalists, politicians, and civil society activists says Amnesty International.

“The Government of the Maldives is obliged under the international human rights instruments it has ratified to ensure the security and physical integrity of all persons,” said the Human Rights NGO in a statement released yesterday.

Amnesty went on to list the large number of incidents from recent months, including the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan 71 days ago, and an attack on the outlets’ premises in September.

“In particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, require ensuring the protection of all people from abductions, death threats and attacks.”

A number of abductions by vigilante gangs targeting perceived secularists in June were followed by threats made against journalists attempting to report on a rise in gang-related violence at the start of August.

Rilwan – who himself had reported on these threats – was last seen on the ferry to Hulhumalé on August 8, just minutes before a man fitting his description was seen being forced into a car outside his apartment.

Tension in the capital Malé rose again in late September following the release of a private investigative report into Rilwan’s disappearance.

The report, commissioned by local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network, suggested that radicalised gangs were the most likely culprits in a number of potential lines of inquiry detailed.

Police labelled the investigation “irresponsible” and “politically motivated”, suggesting it had violated the human rights of those involved and vowing to take against against those involved in the report’s compilation.

A series of death threats followed the release of the report and the subsequent media coverage. One individual mentioned in the report was arrested following the attack on Minivan News offices before being released by police the following day.

The offices of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were also attacked a number of times, while the party’s MPs were threatened and homes attacked. The party has described recent threats to its MPs as being too many to mention.

Police response

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has described the authorities’ response as a test of the country’s democracy, while the EU has expressed concern over “mounting gang violence and signs of increasing religious intolerance” in the Maldives.

Police are working with local telecoms companies to identify the source of the threats although the Communications Authority of Maldives has said the use of foreign networks and computer software would make the culprits harder to trace. Threats sent to MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed while in the UK this month have resulted in the involvement of the UK’s metropolitan police.

After continued criticism of the police’s investigation from both Rilwan’s family and international groups, four individuals were taken into custody earlier this month in connection with the disappearance, although three have since been released.

Police have yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry into the disappearance and have previously stated that there was no concrete evidence linking Rilwan and the reported abduction in front of his apartment.

Speaking with Vaguthu last week, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed accused both the family and local media of impeding the investigation.

“Certain media has acted in ways which has caused the police investigation to lose some of the leads we had so we urge the media to not do their own investigations into the case,” said Waheed.

“If Rilwan’s family and the media acted responsibly we would be seeing a better outcome than what we are seeing right now,” he told Vaguthu.

When Minivan News requested a similar interview with the police commissioner, it was informed that scheduling issues would not make this possible during the coming weeks.

The past eight days have seen a further number of attacks on the MDP during its tour of the southern atolls. 16 men were arrested following attacks on a party rally in Feydhoo, though all were subsequently released without charge.

The party’s offices in Addu were also attacked by arsonists following the disrupted rally.


Criminal Court releases suspect in Minivan News attack

The Criminal Court last night released a suspect arrested by police in connection with the attack on Minivan News on Thursday afternoon (September 25).

Police arrested the 32-year-old man Thursday night on charges of stealing a CCTV camera outside the Minivan News building and took the suspect before a judge last night seeking extension of detention.

machete knife was buried in the door of the Minivan News building after a man in a white shirt – clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage – removed the security camera.

Police have confirmed to local media that the suspect was released with conditions.

According to the Criminal Court, the three conditions were cooperating with the police investigation, not leaving Malé without informing police, and not causing any disturbance.

Local media has identified the suspect as Ahmed Muaz, known as ‘Gatu Mua,’ an alleged gang leader with a criminal record for theft and other offences.

Shortly before newspaper Haveeru published the news of Muaz’s arrest on Thursday night, a journalist at the local daily received a death threat via text message from a private number.

“If you write the name [of the arrested suspect] we will wipe you out. Remember that,” read the message, which was also posted on Twitter by the journalist.

Other media outlets reportedly received threatening phone calls warning them not to name the individual.

According to Haveeru, Muaz refused to get into the police van when police attempted to take him into custody.

“He went to the police office on his own cycle,” the newspaper reported.

Home Minister Umar Naseer meanwhile tweeted: “The suspect who attacked Minivan News office has been arrested. The govt will uphold the law.”

Following a meeting between journalists and Naseer late on Thursday night, the minister released a press statement the next day assuring that the attack on Minivan News as well as threats to journalists would be investigated with seriousness and urgency.

As the incident was related to “gang activity,” Naseer said the government was taking prompt action.

“[We] offer assurance that the government’s efforts to find an adequate and permanent solution to the environment of crime created in the Maldives will be carried forward without interruption,” the statement read.

In the hours after the attack, a Minivan News journalist also received a death threat, which read: “You will be killed or disappeared next, be careful.”

The Minivan News office building was also evacuated on Thursday night following threats of an arson attack. A similar threat was sent to opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

Investigation report

The attack on the Minivan office came after an investigation report – commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan was made public.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a “strong possibility.”

The abductions in June followed local media reports of a meeting between Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and youth groups who expressed concern over insults to Islam online and the promotion of homosexuality.

Witnesses to the abductions told Minivan News that the individuals photographed in the meeting formed part of the vigilante group that carried out the abductions in June.

The investigation report commissioned by MDN claimed that Muaz met both Islamic Minister Shaheem and Home Minister Umar Naseer.

In an apparent reference to the meeting with Muaz, Home Minister Naseer tweeted yesterday (September 26) that his “daily schedule involves meeting people who request for appointments”.

“Muaz’s concerns included the growth of secularism, which he believed would eventually destabilise the Maldives as rifts between Islamists and secularists erupt into open violence,” the investigation report stated.

Police told Minivan News last week that individuals named in the investigation report “raised their concerns and some have filed cases with the police alleging that their personal safety and security is at risk and they are receiving threats.”

Meanwhile, Tourism Ministry’s Coordinator Ahmed Shamoon tweeted yesterday of a war against MDN and Minivan News. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives member later deleted the tweet and claimed the screenshot circulating on social media was “fake”.

“The war we are waging against MDN and Minivan News is a war against laadheeniyath [secularism or irreligiousness],” read the tweet.


How serious are cyber death threats?

In July 2009, blogger Hilath Rasheed broke news of an underage girl being kept as a concubine on his blog. Soon afterwards, he started receiving death threats online.

He was accused of being an infidel and anonymous commenters sent him messages warning him against walking in dark alleyways. They threatened to slash his throat and behead him.

Two years later, in June 2012, three men ambushed Hilath in a dark alleyway leading up to his apartment block, slashed his throat and left him for dead.

Recalling the events today, Hilath told Minivan News he had not taken cyber death threats seriously before the fatal attack. He had also suffered an assault in December 2011.

“I was naïve and uninformed that some Maldivian youngsters in gangs could be brainwashed to the extent of decapitating a fellow human in the name of Islam,” he said.

Doctors called Hilath’s recovery a miracle.

Death threats have become a norm in Maldivian cyberspace. Politicians, journalists, bloggers and social media users have reported receiving cyber death threats for a range of reasons, from their support of a particular political party to their advocacy of freedom of religion.

Minivan News has also learned death threats were issued in at least one of this week’s abductions by vigilante mobs prior to the act.

Eyewitnesses alleged gangsters and religious extremists carried out the abductions as part of an effort to identify cyber activists supporting atheism and secularism in the Maldives. The abductees were also accused of homosexuality and atheism and were asked to prove their faith in Islam, sources said.

“With the recent kidnappings of some Maldivians by an Islamist vigilant mob of about 40, on the pretext their victims are ‘laadheenee’ or ‘impious’, I will advise everyone to really be careful about any kinds of threats because now I believe they can turn real all too easily,” Hilath said.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has also expressed concern over the prevalence of cyber threats of violence and urged victims to report threats made via Facebook, Twitter, or comments on blog posts to the Maldives Police Services.

“In light of recent events, at a time of high levels of intolerance, and increase in gang related violence, do not treat any form of cyber threat as an idle threat,” HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal said.

However, prominent blogger Yameen Rasheed said he does not trust the police to protect bloggers, especially those who advocate for freedom of religion. He noted the police had failed to take action against individuals who had attacked Hilath in the December 2011 assault, despite photographic evidence.

“There is nothing you can do. I do not believe police will take action. There are some among the police who sympathise with the attackers,” he said.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also alleged that extremist ideologies are prevalent among the security forces.

Yameen, who has also received cyber threats, said his fellow bloggers in the Maldives blogosphere “don’t feel secure at all” in light of the recent abductions.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Yameen has suggested the government backs the individuals behind the abductions. He said he expects more threats for his blog posts, but feels the only precaution he can take is documenting and publicising the incidents.

Whistleblower Aishath Velezinee and Raajje TV journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed, who both suffered physical violence after receiving death threats online, have also urged victims of cyber harassment to take precautions when threatened online.

Velezinee was stabbed in 2010 for her revelations of judicial corruption while Asward was nearly beaten to death in 2012 after writing reports critical of the government.

Both Velezinee and Asward also expressed low levels of confidence in the security forces’ ability to take action.

“I made public the private messages that had been sent to me. There was no other way but to make the public as aware as possible,” Velezinee said.

Speaking of harassment online, Velezinee said she was the victim of a smear campaign which labeled her as a drug addict and an infidel prior to the attack. “This is systematically done to justify the physical violence,” she said.

“Social media serves as a means of communication with the world. If they can silence social media users, it is a big win for them,” she said.

Asward said he believed the prevalence of death threats to be linked to a culture of accepting violence in the Maldives. In protests across the political spectrum, demonstrators call for people “to be hung, slaughtered, or killed,” he said. “Maldivians do not seem to call for discussion to solve issues.”

A media official at the Maldives Police Services told Minivan News today that cyber crimes are difficult to investigate due to challenges in tracing those who issue threats. A law on cyber crimes is needed to facilitate investigations, the police said.

A former law enforcement official who wished to remain anonymous also raised concerns over lack of legislation on cyber crimes, but said police must make use of their limited capacity to track down perpetrators in order to deter and limit the prevalence of online threats.

Former Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem has said threats issued on social media can be prosecuted under the Act on Prohibition of Threats and Use of Dangerous Weapons passed in 2010.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has pressed charges against individuals for threats made via phone calls and text messages, but have not yet received cases relating to social media and cyber threats, he said.

Other prominent figures who have eported receiving death threats via text messages and social media include former President Mohamed Nasheed, MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, former Speaker Abdulla Shahid, ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Mahloof, and former Election Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek.