Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the stabbing of well-known Maldivian journalist and blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.
Rasheed had his throat slashed outside his house in Male’ around 8:15pm on Monday night, and was rushed to ADK Hospital for emergency surgery. Sources at the hospital said that the attack severed his trachea (windpipe), missing a vital artery “by millimetres”, and initially gave him a five percent chance of survival.
Hospital staff stabilised Rasheed’s condition around 2:30am on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday evening his condition was said to be improving. An informed source told Minivan News that Rasheed was unable to speak due to his injuries, but had communicated with his parents in writing.
“This knife attack has all the hallmarks of a targeted murder attempt,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
“Rasheed has made many enemies through his outspoken blogging. The authorities in charge of the investigation should not rule out the possibility that this was linked to his journalistic activity. He is a well-known journalist who has repeatedly been censored, arrested and threatened.
“The police must, as a matter of urgency, put a stop to the harassment of Rasheed and take the issue of his safety seriously. Any lack of response on their part will constitute a criminal failure to assist a person in danger,” RSF stated.
The organisation noted that Rasheed had previously been attacked on December 10, 2011, suffering a fractured skull “while attending a peaceful demonstration in support of religious tolerance.”
“The police then arrested him for taking part in the demonstration and held him until 9 January,” RSF added, noting that Rasheed’s blog, www.hilath.com, had also been blocked on the orders of Ministry of Islamic Affairs on 19 November 2011 on the grounds that it contained “anti-Islamic” material.
“If it is confirmed that the attack was prompted by his journalism and blogging, Rasheed would be the first journalist to have been the target of a murder attempt in Maldives,” RSF observed.
The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has also condemned the attack on Rasheed.
“The violent attack on Hilath was an attempt to kill him. The association calls on the authorities to find those who had involved in this crime and bring them to justice,” the MJA stated.
“We call on the police and political figures of this country to stop quarrelling for power and make the country – especially the capital Male’ – a place where families and children can live without fear.”
The MJA added that if the trend of violent murders across the country continued, the resulting impact on the country’s tourism-based economy would be “irrevocable”.
Minister for Human Resources and spokesperson for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told AFP that while the government condemned the attack, “Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists.”
“We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” Shareef said.
Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile said that while no arrests had been made, police had obtained CCTV footage of the area and were in the process of analysing it.
Police were also investigating the stabbing of a Bangladeshi man at 11pm on the same evening, Haneef said. The victim suffered minor injuries and was discharged from hospital on Tuesday.
The Maldives was ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The country jumped from 148th in 2005 to 51st in 2009, following the introduction of multiparty democracy and freedom of expression.