Three arrested in connection with Rilwan’s disappearance

The Maldives Police Services today confirmed three men have been arrested in relation to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Today marks the 51st day since Rilwan went missing. He is believed to have been abducted at knife point from outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé at 2am on August 8.

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has welcomed “progress in police investigation”, offering its support and calling upon the public to lend any assistance required to police.

The Criminal Court today extended the detention of two 22-year-old men for five days and a 24-year-old man for seven days, reported police who declined to reveal further details.

“The Criminal Court’s extension of their detention signifies a progress in the investigation,” said MDN.

The Maldives Police Service has yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry being followed, noting on September 16 that no “concrete evidence” could be found between Rilwan and a reported abduction outside his apartment shortly after his last sighting.

MDN last week released a report implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

The investigative report by Glasgow based Athena Security confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang. One of the suspects is identified as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.

Minivan News understands Shiran is currently in police custody for unrelated charges.

Citing a series of gang attacks against perceived secularists in June, the report said that gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction was a “strong possibility”.

The report noted increased radical activity among members of three main gangs in Malé – Bosnia, Kuda Henveiru, and Buru – and claimed members had participated in attacks against individuals they deem “un-Islamic”.

Rilwan had “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his advocacy against religious extremists, the report said.

One man named in the report, vandalised Minivan News’ security cameras on Thursday and two others buried a machete in the building’s main door.

Minivan News journalists received death threats shortly afterwards warning them, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”

The man seen tearing down the camera was arrested that same night, before being released by the Criminal Court on Friday on conditions that he cooperate with the police investigation, that he not leave Malé without informing police, and that he not cause any further disturbances.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) office was set on fire in the early hours of the morning following the attack on Minivan News, and the door of former MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s residence was set ablaze.

The arson attack followed vandalism of the main opposition party’s office for two consecutive nights and numerous death threats sent from unlisted numbers to MDP MPs, senior members, and dozens of journalists.

“This is a war between the laadheenee [secular or irreligious] MDP mob and religious people. We advise the media not to come in the middle of this. We won’t hesitate to kill you,” read the threat to journalists.

The text message was sent to journalists from opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV, and state broadcaster Television Maldives as well as other news outlets.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US embassy in Colombo, and international press freedom organisations have subsequently issued statements condemning the attack on the Minivan News office.