Journalist’s family backs independent inquiry into disappearance

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s family has supported the opposition’s call for an independent inquiry into his disappearance a year ago in a Malé suburb.

Speaking to the press outside the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, Rilwan’s sister Aishath Fazna also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after his disappearance.

Rilwan was last seen entering the ferry terminal in the early hours of August 8 last year. He is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé.

The police prevented the family from speaking to the press today, stating that permission is required from the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to speak to the press on its premises.

An independent inquiry into Rilwan’s disappearance and the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was proposed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to pave the way for political reconciliation in ongoing talks with the government.

Rilwan’s family said the panel must be impartial and its composition must be decided on consultation with civil society groups. The inquiry must consider the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, including death threats to journalists and the rise of religious extremism in the Maldives, the family said.

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Announcing a march on August 8 amidst police obstruction, the family said: “Taking to the streets is the only recourse we have. The people who have abducted our bother remain on the streets. As long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice, we are not safe.”

The police in April said it had received a DNA analysis of samples taken from cars suspected to have been used in the abduction. Family members have criticised slow progress in the investigation.

In a press statement, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year. A 5,500 signature strong petition calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to Majlis last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed on Tuesday and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) was asked to investigate police negligence in October last year, but the oversight body has yet to produce a report.

The family has also submitted a petition with the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in September last year.


US shines spotlight on missing Maldives journalist

The US state department has highlighted the unresolved disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in a campaign ahead of international press freedom day on May 3.

Acting spokesperson Marie Harf called on the Maldives to “credibly investigate the disappearance” during a press briefing in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in a Malé suburb in the early morning of August 8. The 28-year-old reporter wrote on politics, criminal gangs and Islamic extremism.

Rilwan had received clear threats to his life in the weeks prior to his disappearance, and an investigative report by a local human rights group has implicated radicalised gangs in the abduction.

Harf called on the government “to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work without fear of violence or harassment, including ending impunity for attacks and intimidation against journalists.”

Police investigations has been slow despite nine months passing since the disappearance was reported.

In a statement last week, the police said they are continuing with the investigation, and have received some forensic analysis reports of samples from three different cars that may have been used in the abduction.

“The investigative team is now reviewing how we may continue with the investigation based on the results of some of the forensic analysis reports,” the April 23 statement said.

In October last year, the police arrested five individuals over the disappearance, but all have been released. Local media reported that several suspects left the Maldives in January, ostensibly for the war effort in Syria.

Home minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged the involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

His family has accused the police of negligence, saying officers failed to stop and search the car used in the abduction, despite eye witnesses having filed a report with the police immediately after observing the abduction.

Police officers had reportedly confiscated a knife from the scene.

Maldives journalists have repeatedly raised concerns over death threats to the press by Malé’s criminal gangs, but the police have failed to take substantive action against threats.

In March, local media cited a blog and reported that Rilwan had died fighting against the Islamic State in Kurdistan. However, the police said the blog was fake.


Avaaz petition urges government to find those behind Rilwan’s disappearance

Social activist website Avaaz has called upon President Abdulla Yameen and his foreign minister Dunya Maumoon to identify those involved in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

“We call on you to ensure a thorough investigation into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan and bring to justice all those involved in his alleged abduction,” read the petition launched this week.

Avaaz – which means ‘voice’ in various languages – is urging Maldivian authorities to protect free speech in the Maldives and to address the threat of violent extremism.

A private investigation into the 29-year-old’s disappearance implicated radicalised gangs, while – despite a lack of progress in the search – the home minister has acknowledged gang involvement.

Avaaz campaigns in 15 different languages, claims over 40 million members in 194 countries, and has been described as the “globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network” by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Rilwan’s brother Moosa told the organisation that he had turned to them after fearing that Maldivian authorities were doing nothing to aid the search.

“Rilwan was a brave journalist who exposed the dangerous Islamic radicals operating in these paradise islands and who had issued many death threats to my brother. But many of these extremists have links with ruling politicians and that’s why the police are not moving on Rilwan’s case,” suggested Rilwan.

Similarly, speaking with Minivan News on the occasion of Rilwan’s 29th birthday last month, his mother Aminath Easa said she was convinced her son was a victim of a coordinated abduction.

“The police will look for him and find him if their superiors order them to do so. I believe government officials are complicit in this case,” said Easa, aged 67.

Friends and family of Rilwan take part in the second 'Suvaalu March' on January 8

International pressure

After suggesting opposition groups, friends, and family of the journalist were obstructing the investigation, authorities have assured that the search continues six months after Rilwan was last seen at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal – shortly before witnesses reported a man being forced into a car outside of Rilwan’s apartment.

Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed told the media last month that the search was continuing without “interruption or boredom”, though he declined from revealing specifics, saying that information previously circulated by sources had “cast a shadow over our work”.

While foreign minister Dunya has previously spoken out about the case, noting the importance of protecting free speech, President Yameen has yet to comment on the matter beyond a brief remark made shortly after the disappearance.

Rilwan’s brother told Avaaz that international pressure was the only thing that would make the authorities act, noting the country’s heavy reliance on the billion dollar tourism industry.

“This Sunday [January 8] it will be 6 months since Rilwan disappeared. When we get to 50,000 signatures, Avaaz will take out ‘Missing person’ ads in major Maldivian newspapers and launch a massive media awareness campaign on the extremism and corruption in my beautiful islands,” said Moosa.

“Please join my family’s search for Rilwan.”

Avaaz previously launched a Maldives campaign in March 2013, calling for the flogging sentence given to a 15-year-old rape victim to be rescinded.

After 2 million people signed the petition, the High Court overturned the sentence in August 2013.

Deputy Minister of Tourism at the time of the first petition Mohamed Maleeh Jamal – now minister of youth and sports – called the campaign’s motive “dubious”.

Meanwhile, then President Dr Mohamed Waheed – to whom the petition was addressed – thanked the international community for its concern but warned against calls for a tourism boycott.

In response, Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel denied a boycott had been called for, suggesting that tourists had the right to know the issues of countries they intend to visit.

“Around the world people are interested (and have a right to know) what kind of systems they’re supporting with their tourism dollars, and to make their holiday decisions accordingly,” said Patel.

Sign the petition here


Related to this story

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“Horror in paradise”: Avaaz launches campaign to target Maldives’ tourism reputation over flogging sentences

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“Not all crimes in the world are solvable”: Home minister says on Rilwan’s disappearance


Friends of Rilwan hold event to mark missing journalist’s 29th birthday

Friends and family of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan gathered outside Hulhumalé ferry terminal yesterday to mark his birthday.

Members of the public and supporters of the campaign to find Rilwan wrote messages of support which were attached to a mural created earlier in the five month campaign.

Messages posted on the mural included: ‘We haven’t given up on you yet’, ‘You are missed’, ‘Hoping for your safe return’, ‘Please come back, we need you’, and ‘You are late for work!!!’.

Hulhumalé terminal was the place in which Rilwan was last sighted on CCTV on August 8, shortly before eyewitnesses reported a man fitting his description being pushed into a vehicle outside of his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Rilwan’s mother Aminath Easa, told Minivan News this week that she would would never give up the search for her son, who turned 29-years-old yesterday.

“God willing, I will do everything in my power to find him, with patience, until I die. I will not stop, no matter what anyone says.”

The Maldives Police Service is continuing the search for missing Rilwan as a top priority, without “interruption or boredom”, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed told the press earlier this month.

“I assure Rilwan’s family in this opportunity that the police will continue the search without any interruption or boredom. I wish for Rilwan’s safe return,” he said.

“From our investigations so far, there is no evidence to suggest Rilwan is dead. Therefore, our hope is he is still safe and alive,”

Rilwan’s family has asked the Police Integrity Commission to look into potential negligence in the apparently stalled investigation into his disappearance.

Home Minister Umar Naseer has previously acknowledged involvement of gangs in the case, although police have refused to reveal any information to the family regarding potential theories or avenues of inquiry.

“I am not at all happy with the government’s response,” said Aminath. “I know the police are capable, they have solved cases they work on. They caught the two dangerous convicts who escaped from jail, without firing a single shot.”

“They work when their leaders tell them to. But the government hasn’t told them to find my son. The police will look for him and find him if their superiors order them to do so. I believe government officials are complicit in this case.”

For more pictures of yesterday’s event click here

Related to this story

Q&A: “With patience, until I die” – Rilwan’s mother vows to continue the search

No apparent progress in police search for Rilwan, family plans protest for Friday

MDN investigation implicates radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance


No apparent progress in police search for Rilwan, family plans protest for Friday

The Maldives Police Service is continuing the search for missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan as a top priority, without “interruption or boredom”, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed has said.

“In the year 2014, the case that the Maldives Police Services worked the most on and was unable to complete investigations into was the disappearance of Maafannu Shining Star Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla,” Waheed told the press today.

“I assure Rilwan’s family in this opportunity that the police will continue the search without any interruption or boredom. I wish for Rilwan’s safe return,” he said.

Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint in Malé’s suburb Hulhumaé in the early hours of August 8.

“From our investigations so far, there is no evidence to suggest Rilwan is dead. Therefore, our hope is he is still safe and alive,”

Waheed refused to reveal details of the search for Rilwan despite repeated questions from the press.

Reporters questioned the commissioner on Rilwan’s whereabouts, whether Rilwan is believed to have been abducted or if his disappearance was voluntary, and on possible groups responsible for and their motivations for disappearing Rilwan.

“I am unable to provide additional details on this case, as some information revealed previously and information circulated by different sources cast a shadow over our work. Therefore, I am constrained from revealing ongoing efforts and plans for the future,” he said.

Rilwan’s family has accused the police of negligence, and has planned a march titled ‘Suvaalu March’ – or ‘Question March’ – on Friday (January 9).

The walk is to start at 4pm from Malé’s Artifical Beach area.

Police dragging their feet, says brother

Speaking to Minivan News, Rilwan’s brother Moosa Rilwan said the state had failed to protect his brother and public pressure was necessary to force the police to expedite investigations.

“Tomorrow marks the 154th day since my brother disappeared. The police are still dragging their feet. We are completely dependent on the police to find him. We can only move forward when the investigations are completed,” he said.

Public pressure had previously worked, resulting in the arrest of four individuals, he said.

The home ministry had told the family in a recent meeting that police are still waiting on analysis of DNA samples from two cars which may have been used to abduct Rilwan.

“Five months on, the DNA samples have not been analysed. No one is in custody anymore. No motive has been explained. Police still cannot definitively tell us if it was an abduction,” he said.

“Meanwhile, my family and I are reduced to begging the authorities for help. President Abdulla Yameen still refuses to comment on the case. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Rilwan’s family has filed a complaint with the Police Integrity Commission requesting the watchdog to investigate police negligence in the case.

Home Minister Umar Naseer has previously acknowledged involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Gang involvement

Local media on Wednesday reported an individual arrested over the case traveled to Syria for jihad in early January. He was accompanied by six members of the Kuda Henveiru gang including Azlif Rauf, a suspect in the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network released a report in September implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Discounting theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, the investigation – conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – concluded the disappearance is likely to have been an abduction.

The report confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang.

The report identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of a red car, which may have been used in an abduction reported on the night Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared.

Police were investigating Arlif’s car for having been illegally imported to Hulhumalé on August 4, and returned to Malé sometime between August 13 – 15, the report continued.

It also suggested gang leaders had been exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison, saying that they openly supported the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and recruited jihadists for the war in Syria and Iraq.

MDN on October 23 accused the police of negligence in investigating the disappearance for their failure to inform the public on progress and failure to confirm if the abduction reported on the night Rilwan went missing was related to his disappearance.

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Maldives falls in press freedom index for fourth year

The Maldives has fallen in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for the fourth consecutive year, dropping 5 places to 108th out of the 180 countries ranked.

The index reflects the degree of freedom that journalists enjoy in each country and the efforts made by authorities to ensure respect for this freedom.

After serious attacks against opposition-aligned journalists last year, 2014 marked a new low in Maldivian journalism as the Minivan News journalist and blogger Ahmed Rilwan disappeared in what is widely regarded as an abduction.

The RSF index is again topped by European nations – Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands – while Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, and China are again among the lowest scoring countries.

After the Maldives rose as high as 51st in the index in 2009, recent years have seen a steady decline, slipping to 73rd by 2011, 103rd in 2012, and 108th last year.

RSF also released its annual indicator of the global level of media freedom for the second time this year, which increased by 61 points – or 1.8 percent, suggesting a slight decline in respect for freedom of information worldwide.

With over 700 journalists killed worldwide over the past decade, UNESCO last year launched the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which was observed on November 2.

Rilwan’s disappearance

In early November this year, the Police Integrity Commission accepted a case filed by Rilwan’s family alleging police negligence in the investigation into the 28-year-old’s disappearance.

The Maldivian Democracy Network has also asked the police watchdog to investigate the police’s failure to investigate dangerous criminal activity outlined in a report into the disappearance.

The report by UK-based private investigators concluded radicalised gangs to have been the most likely culprits in the abduction.

Police immediately dismissed the document as politically motivated, though they have yet to make significant progress in the investigation, with Home Minister Umar Naseer telling the media that some cases just could not be solved.

Publication of the details of the MDN report by the media also resulted in threats against journalists, which have frequently followed the publication of stories about the capital’s growing gang problems.

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan - missing for 131 days

A landmark “Threat Analysis Report” carried out by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May found that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.

2014 also saw the first criminal proceedings initiated against a journalist since the introduction of the 2008 constitution, though charges of obstructing police duty against Channel News Maldives journalist Abdulla Haseen were later dropped by the state.

Rilwan’s disappearance is the first such instance of its kind in the Maldives, although near fatal attacks were carried out on the blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 and the Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in 2013.

Noticeable problems

Following Rilwan’s disappearance in August, journalists from across the Maldives joined to declare that his abduction was a threat to all, calling for an end to persistent intimidation faced by the press.

“As intimidation of press grows, and attacks against journalists, equipment, and buildings continue, we are extremely concerned over the delays in bringing to justice those who commit these acts,” read the landmark statement.

Meanwhile, oversight of the industry – one of the key measures in the RSF index – continued to be negatively affected by internal problems within both the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Maldives Media Council (MMC).

After the last three attempts to hold new elections for the MJA were disrupted, Vice President Ali Shaman said that the continued absence of members had left the association unable to form a quorum for meetings.

“Due to the delays, the MJA’s functions have not been that effective,” said Shaman, who suggested that the introduction of a working journalist’s act could improve the conditions for journalists in the country.

An MJA meeting in August resulted in accusations of assault against one editor and the resignation of MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, while the editor accused subsequently received a death threat via SMS.

Meanwhile, the work of the 15 member MMC – established under the 2008 Maldives Media Council Act to establish and preserve media freedom – has also been hindered this year by delays to internal elections.

All members of the council were confirmed in early December after issues regarding the eligibility of inactive media outlets had delayed the MMC elections by four months.

Observers sent from the EU to oversee this year’s Majlis elections suggested that lack of clarity in the media regulatory framework should be addressed, suggesting a merger between the Media Council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.

The council did, however, hold the first Maldives Journalism Awards this year, although the absence of government officials appeared to contradict pledges to respect and protect journalists.

Related to this story

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Rilwan’s family accessed social media accounts

The family of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan have clarified that they have been accessing his social media accounts, following speculation in local media.

“We, Rilwan’s family, used his phone number to check for any clues in his accounts regarding his disappearance,” read a statement released by the family today.

“Despite more than 100 days passing since Rilwan disappeared, there has been no progress. When Ooredoo put his sim card number on the market after three months of inactivity, we took his number and attempted to check his accounts.”

Local media began publishing stories on Wednesday after Rilwan’s Facebook account became active, while speculation continued after his Viber account was also seen to have been accessed.

Rilwan’s family went on to express gratitude for the continuing public concern, while noting that the police have also been informed of their use of the accounts.

The Police Integrity Commission has been asked by the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) to investigate the police’s failure to investigate dangerous criminal activity outlined in a report into the August 8 disappearance, while Rilwan’s family have had a case accepted regarding negligence in the investigation.

The September report, conducted by a UK-based private investigator firm, suggested Rilwan was likely to have been abducted by radicalised gangs. Police subsequently dismissed the report as politically motivated, though they have yet to reveal specifics regarding the nature of their investigation.

Police Commissioner Hussein Waheed and Home Minister Umar Naseer have blamed MDN, Rilwan’s family, and the media for the stalled investigation.

One suspect remains under house arrest in relation to what is believed to have a been an abduction at knife-point from outside Rilwan’s Hulhumalé apartment.

Known gang members were captured on CCTV following Rilwan in the moments prior to his disappearance and, while the home minister has acknowledged gang involvement, he has also compared case  to ‘unsolvable’ mysteries such as Malaysian flight MH370 and the JFK assassination.

Numerous international organisations, including Amnesty International, have expressed concern at the 28-year-old’s disappearance and the subsequent failure of the police investigation.

In a statement to mark the 100 days of disappearance earlier this month, Rilwan’s mother Aminath Easa said the state had failed to protect her son and bring perpetrators to justice.

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Analysis: Gangsters, Islamists, police, and the rule of low

During President Abdulla Yameen’s first year in office, one journalist was disappeared, four people were stabbed to death, dozens suffered near fatal injuries in knifings and criminal gangs began harassing and abducting individuals they deemed un-Islamic.

At least four Maldivians were reportedly killed while fighting with Islamist groups in Syria, and dozens left the country to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).

Yet, Yameen at a rally on November 14 said: “We now 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.”

His solution for the allegedly isolated cases of violence is the death penalty and restriction of fundamental freedoms such as the right to remain silent and right to legal counsel.

“I want to say tonight as well in your presence, this government will have no mercy at all for those who slaughter Maldivian citizens with no mercy,” he told supporters at a rally to mark the government’s first anniversary on Thursday. .

The president’s words ring hollow after a year of refusal to even acknowledge the dangers of radicalism and a failure to address increasing criminal and vigilante action by Malé’s gangs. Further, offering draconian measures while ignoring the Maldives Police Services’ inability to ensure minimum standards of public safety raises further doubt over the president’s sincerity.

What Jihad?

Yameen has refused to publicly comment on the increasing numbers of Maldivians fighting in foreign wars, saying in September that the government was unaware of Maldivians fighting abroad. If they were fighting in foreign wars, it was not being done with the government’s consent, he said.

At the time, three Maldivians had been killed while fighting with the Jabhat Al–Nusra Front in Syria. A fourth was reported killed in November.

Soon afterwards, on September 18, Maldives police said there were only 24 Maldivians associated with foreign terrorist groups, but refused to provide further details.

Yameen’s comments came in the same month that hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Malé carrying black ISIS flags, calling for the implementation of the Islamic Shari’ah and rejecting the laws of the 2008 Constitution.

‘We want the laws of the Quran, not the green book [Maldivian constitution]‘, ‘Islam will eradicate secularism’, ‘No democracy, we want just Islam’, ‘To hell with democracy’, ‘Democracy is a failed system’, read some of the placards, which were all written in English.

Police were reportedly unable to stop the protest, despite foreign minister Dunya Maumoon and Islamic minister Dr Shaheem Ali Saeed condemning ISIS’ actions in the Middle East and pledging to ban their supporters’ activities in the Maldives.

Since then, numerous reports of Maldivians leaving the country to join the dozens of Maldivian militants in Syria have surfaced. In October, 23 year old Ahsan Ibrahim, his wife, mother and 10-year-old sister left for ISIS territory, claiming the Maldives is “a land of sin.” Three weeks ago, three Maldivians were apprehended in Sri Lanka on their way to Syria via Turkey.

Although Dunya and Shaheem have spoken out against ISIS, without the president’s acknowledgement of the issue and a comprehensive deradicalisation policy, their statements appear to be mere lip service.

The government has consistently labeled former President Mohamed Nasheed’s vocal criticism on the issue as an attempt to tarnish Maldives’ reputation abroad.

Courting gangs?

As concerning is the government’s refusal to acknowledge growing radicalism among Malé’s criminal gangs and failure to address frequent death threats against journalists and opposition politicians.

Several gangsters, some of whom were seen at the forefront of the ISIS March, reportedly abducted several young men in June to identify advocates of secularism and atheism online.

They forced the young men to hand over their Facebook details before hijacking and shutting down a Facebook group called ‘Colorless’ – among one of the many vibrant forums for discussion on politics. A similar abduction occurred earlier this month.

The police, however, have made no move to investigate the abductions.

The same individuals have been implicated in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan. Today is the 107th day since he was abducted. Days before his disappearance, Bilad al-Sham, the self-proclaimed voice of Maldivian militants in Syria, warned Rilwan that his days were growing short when he contacted them for comment on a story.

Death threats have become a common occurrence. In August, an estimated 15 journalists from across the political spectrum were threatened with death should they report on a spate of street violence that saw one dead and at least nine grievously injured. The killing was the third fatal knifing in Malé this year.

Since then, journalists and politicians have continued to frequently receive death threats via an anonymous web SMS caster service.

On September 25, a journalist from Haveeru was warned she would be killed if she named the gangster, Ahmed Muaz, responsible for vandalising Minivan News office security cameras. The threat came after she had made a phone call to the police and before she published her article. It is not clear how those who made the threat came to know she was working on the story.

That night, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party offices were firebombed and Nasheed’s family residence was vandalised. The police, again, have made no move to investigate the death threats or vandalism. Muaz was released within 24 hours of his arrest.

More worrying is that the government’s youth policy appears to be aimed at controlling and appeasing Malé’s gangs.

In August, Yameen intervened and halted a police attempt to dismantle gang huts in Malé. The police had claimed the demolition would curb gang activity. Yameen has also erased 2000 criminal records.

The President’s Office has declined to reveal names and criteria used for the policy decision. The lack of transparency and failure to enact rehabilitation programs signal the move may simply have been to buy the loyalty of a vulnerable sector of youth rather than a genuine effort at rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, government officials including Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim have been photographed with several gangsters who have records of murder and assault, at several government and PPM functions.

Protect who?

The Maldives Police Service’s performance this year has been dismal, as evident by their poor handling of Rilwan’s disappearance.

An abduction at knifepoint was reported in front of Rilwan’s building at the time he would have reached home on the night he disappeared. Eyewitnesses immediately informed the police.

A team of officers confiscated a knife that abductors dropped on the scene. A couple of officers reportedly went after the car, but failed to stop and search it. If the abduction had been investigated in a timely manner, Rilwan’s fate may be clearer.

Meanwhile, police involvement in crime has been growing this year, with three officers arrested in drug busts in Malé, Hinnavaru, and Addu. Police officers were also accused of cutting down all of Malé City’s areca palm trees.

Minivan News has also learned that the police’s Serious and Organised Crime Department only forwarded 53 of the 465 cases that were lodged this year for prosecution.

Combined, these events suggest a Maldives far removed from the peaceful and orderly country described by the president.

Yameen’s draconian punishments will do little to deter violent crime without a competent police force. Instead of enforcing the death penalty and restricting constitutional freedoms, Yameen must acknowledge and address rising radicalism, and prosecute criminal activity by Malé’s gangs instead of courting them.

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MDN alerts PIC over failure to investigate criminal activity in missing journalist report

Human rights group Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has requested the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) to probe police’s failure to investigate dangerous criminal activity outlined in a report into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The report – which claimed Rilwan was likely to have been abducted by radicalised gangs – was sent to the police on September 22 along with a letter requesting the police investigate its findings, MDN said.

The police proceeded to dismiss the report, however, claiming it was released for “political gain,” and has not yet informed the NGO if it has looked into any of the allegations.

The investigation – conducted by Glasgow based Athena Intelligence and Security – identified possible suspects in Rilwan’s disappearance, and confirmed hostile surveillance of Rilwan on the night he went missing. It also linked his disappearance to an abduction at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment on the same night.

“The Maldives Police Services failed to investigate the various criminal actions outlined in the report in the past 2 months and 26 days,” MDN’s letter to the PIC on Monday read.

“We request that your commission investigate and take action against those police officers who have been negligent in this case.” Criminal activity highlighted in the report include:

  • Death threats issued against Rilwan by the administrators of Facebook Group Bilad Al-Sham and stalking by an individual called Ismail Abdul Raheem
  • Abduction with a knife reported on August 8 in front of Rilwan’s apartment
  • Hostile surveillance of Rilwan by at least two people belonging to Kuda Henveiru gang in Malé

Home Minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family has also lodged a complaint at the PIC accusing the Maldives Police Services of negligence.

The police had failed to treat the case seriously despite Rilwan’s high risk profile, the family said. Although an abduction reported outside Rilwan’s apartment at 2 am on August 8, the police only took statements from eyewitnesses on August 14, the family noted.

Further, the police officer in charge of the Hulhumalé police station prevented junior officers from apprehending and searching the car used in the abduction on the same night, the family said.

“If the abduction had been investigated immediately at the right time, the police would have been able to find the victim and clarify if it is our brother or not,” Rilwan’s sister Mariyam Fazna has said.

The police only searched Rilwan’s apartment 29 hours after the abduction was reported and searched his office 11 days afterwards. The police also failed to make a public announcement on Rilwan’s disappearance – despite a request by the family – and did not inform the public on how to act if they had any information related to the case, the family explained further.

In a statement to mark the 100 days of disappearance, Rilwan’s mother Aminath Easa said the state had failed to protect her son and bring perpetrators to justice.

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed had previously denied negligence while the home minister told state television that some crimes could not be solved.

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