Comment: Afrasheem, Rilwan, and the future of the Maldivian community

Writing in the 1970s, anthropologist Clarence Maloney remarked that religion in the Maldives was limited to “washing, fasting and praying”.

What he meant is similar to what MB Hooker observed in the Southeast Asian Muslim populations – Islam was characterised by “a ‘non-literally’ Muslim culture”, limited largely to practice without much theorisation and philosophising.

However, since the 1980s – and especially since the year 2000 – the most spectacular change in our culture has been the conscious appropriation and questioning of received religious doctrines and practices. Processes associated with modernisation and mass education have enabled this never-ending fragmentation of discourses, interpretations, and different visions at a larger scale.

This is what Eickelman and James Piscatori described as the “objectification of Muslim consciousness” that has now swept the whole Muslim world. Maldives is no exception to this.


It was in this emerging context of fragmented religious discourses and different religious interpretations that the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suppressed both those who embraced Salafi interpretations of Sharia and those drawn toward more pluralist Sharia.

It is in this context – now characterised by extreme political and social uncertainties – that one of the most prominent Maldivian religious scholars, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was murdered in October 2012. It was also in this same context that my friend, journalist, and human rights activist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared six weeks ago.

None of us yet knows the truth about those tragedies. But what we know is that both have significant religious context. Afrasheem had faced harassment and assault on several occasions because of his religious views. Similarly, Rilwan – once a Salafist – received threats because of his criticisms of certain understandings of Sharia.

More importantly, the murder and disappearance sends a chilling message to the rest of us – religious disagreements cannot be tolerated.

The fact of the matter is that, however small and homogenous, ours is now a society characterised by pluralism. We cannot wish away these disagreements on deep questions of what the good life is.

In need of a new moral order…

But ethical and religious disagreements do not mean there is no possibility of a moral order for collective life that we could come to agree upon.

Such a moral order must be based on political and moral principles that we all can – or should – value, i.e. liberty, equality, and peace. These are also among the higher values that Islam stands for.

In this moral order, there should be a maximum and genuine role for religion. It is not a secularist moral order where religion must be privatised, or religion is seen as something that will just disappear with the rise of ‘rationality,’ science, or modernisation.

In my view, both the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party/Progressive Party of Maldives have failed to articulate a vision of democracy that genuinely respects the place of religion in democracy.

Officials of both governments have characterised religious people as somehow irrational or pre-modern. Both governments have tried to control or co-opt religion in their instrumentalist and ideological narrowness.

A democracy based on such a moral order does not make a fetish out of ‘secularism’ or ‘separation of religion from the state’. Secularism is not about separation as such. It is about certain moral ends, including liberty and equality.

Sometimes separation and at other times accommodation will promote those values. There is no a priori fixed solution (such as “a wall of separation”) to the relationship of religion to the state in order to achieve those ends.

Context is everything. And contextual reasoning is the way forward.

Thus the moral order the Maldives need is not that of the mainstream secularism we find in France, Turkey, or sometimes even the US – where the value of religion and the rights of religious people are not fully recognised.

In this new moral order, religious parties and religious scholars must have an equal place in the public sphere as their secular counterparts. Laws and policies based on religious values must have a place too. How else could it be, unless we think we can simply separate our religious selves from our political selves?

Only a ‘thin’ liberal conception of citizenship based on a ‘thin’ understanding of epistemology would think moral truth is somehow ‘secular’.

…for a new imagined community

To be sure, in concrete terms, this moral order means freedom of religion cannot be denied – citizenship cannot be denied on religious grounds. How can anyone of us in all religious honesty deny this basic and God-given right?

Even Gayoom, who was the architect of the prevailing insular nation-identity based on ‘sattain satta muslim quam/100 per cent Muslim nation’ had to acknowledge that the denial of religious freedom in the Maldives was in spite of Islam:

The real essence of Islam…is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran…

We Maldivians…hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination…on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous…society based on one national identity…that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

Gayoom, Address at the Opening Ceremony of the Seminar on ”The Calls for Islam in South and South East Asia’, 1983

In other words, a universal precept of Quran was overridden by his attempt at creating a homogenous ‘imagined community’. While this imagined community had been homogenous, the real community has undergone fragmentation of religious discourse.

As a result, the national self-understanding that Gayoom – still leader of the country’s ruling political party – created is now being subjected to vigorous contestation from all fronts – both religious and secular. That is why we are in need of a new moral order for a new imagined community.

Why Afrasheem and Rilwan matter

Perhaps one of the biggest immediate challenges for a new moral order in the Maldives is related to the tragedies of Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Besides our human concern for them, the need for a new moral order is the long-term reason why we all must be concerned to find truth about them. That is why everyone should be calling for greater accountability of the government in these cases.

That is why I support the #suvaalumarch taking place tomorrow afternoon (September 19) in Malé.

For the future of democratisation in the direction of this new moral order is contingent on seeking truth and justice for Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Azim Zahir is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia.


Passports of four men held in connection with Rilwan abduction

Minivan News understands that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) has requested immigration services withhold the passports of four individuals in relation to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The news marks the first confirmation of progress in the search for the 28-year-old, missing for 19 days. The case is widely regarded as being the most complicated investigation ever faced by the service.

Further details of the police’s investigation have not been made public, although local news outlet has reported the men under suspicion to be aged between 20 and 25-years-old. Two are reported to be from Gaaf Alifu Thinadhoo, one from Fuvahmulah, and a fourth man from Malé.

Immigration officials were not able to comment on these reports at the time of publication.

Rilwan was last seen on the 1am ferry to Hulhumalé on August 8, shortly before a man fitting his description was seen being forced into a vehicle directly outside Rilwan’s apartment.

Local media are also reporting that a vehicle was taken into police custody last week in relation to the incident.

Minivan News observed several men acting suspiciously in the Malé ferry terminal at the time of Rilwan’s appearance on CCTV footage at 12:44am, August 8.

With public criticism of the police’s investigation growing, the MPS has publicly accused both the family and media outlets of hindering its search efforts.

The family has offered a reward for information leading to the finding of Rilwan, with the figure raised to MVR200,000 yesterday.

Earlier this week, Rilwan’s mother gave an impassioned plea during a demonstration outside the People’s Majlis following the presentation of a letter urging MP’s help in the search.

“Please don’t do this. Help us. Please. I don’t know where he is. I do not know if he is alive. I do not know if he is dead,” Aminath Easa, 67-years-old, begged authorities.

With three days left before the parliament goes into recess, the Majlis has yet to take firm action on the journalist’s unprecedented disappearance, despite the issue being lodged in three separate committees.

After an urgent motion from Maldivian Democratic Party MP Imthiyaz Fahmy was resoundingly approved last week, with MPs subsequently calling for a speedy investigation.

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”

MP Inthi himself reported receiving a death threat immediately after submitting the motion yesterday, while members of Rilwan’s family have reported intimidation while conducting their own search efforts.


Vnews editor receives SMS death threat after accusations of assault

Editor of Vnews Adam Haleem has received a death threat following heated confrontations during a meeting of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA).

“If you keep behaving however you like, we will make you disappear, we will behead you. Keep that in mind [expletive],” read the anonymous text message, received yesterday at 11:51pm.

The threat was received just minutes after the conclusion of an MJA meeting, in which local media outlet Vaguthu is claiming its Chief Editor Musharraf Hassan had been the victim of an attempted assault by Haleem.

The message received by Haleem comes just days after all media outlets gathered to call for an end to the culture of intimidation, after the recent abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

Following last night’s disrupted meeting, MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir announced his resignation, citing the atmosphere as “not conducive” to hold the association’s scheduled elections.

Haleem, whose award-winning journalism career has also included stints at Sun Online and Haveeru, has rejected claims of an assault, as has the MJA which released a statement denying the incident occurred.

No other journalists present at the meeting have reported the attempted assault, said by Vaguthu to have involved a chair being aimed unsuccessfully at their editor. The paper has also alleged that both the MJA and Haveeru had defamed the paper in the subsequent reporting of events.

Haleem noted that the threatening text was received 15 minutes after the meeting ended, with Vaguthu soon reporting the assault having taken place.

He also noted that he had received messages last night which appeared to have come from Vnews owner and Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim, calling upon him to resign.

“Gasim called me after I received texts in his name and said he had not sent them. So we have to find out where these messages came from,” said Haleem.

Gasim himself was the subject of death threats last week, with the resort owner alleging opposition MPs to have been behind the text threats sent to the Jumhooree Party leader.

In a letter sent to Police Commissioner Hussein Waheed, Gasim suggested the threats had been sent using number duplicating software which gave the appearance of having been sent from a different individual.

Media concerned

The media’s growing concern over a number of attacks on staff and property prompted a landmark joint statement from all the country’s media outlets, signed on Saturday (August 23), expressing “grave concern” over the disappearance of Rilwan 17 days ago.

“We will not step back, or put down our pens, or silence our tongues, or hold our thoughts in the face of such threats. We will do whatever is necessary to secure our right,” it read.

“Efforts have always been made by various parties to silence journalists. Many journalists have been assaulted,” said the document, representing 12 different organisations.

As the police’s investigations into Rilwan’s disappearance continues, Police Commissioner Waheed met with senior officials from telecoms company Ooredoo regarding anonymous text threats.

As the threatening texts were “the issue that public has expressed concern with the most,” discussions focused on ways to speedily resolve the issue, explained a police press release.

Discussions were said to focus on “establishing a mechanism for identifying those who are sending messages to incite fear among citizens faster than at present and putting a stop to it.”

Around 15 journalists from across the media community received SMS threats in relation to their outlets’ coverage of gang-related violence earlier this month, while more threats were reported last week, making specific reference to Rilwan’s disappearance.

A text message sent to Minivan 97 journalist Aishath Aniya on August 20, from a sender identified as ‘ISIS’, read as follows:

“You are next on our hit list. Be careful when you walk alone. #fuckmoyameehaa.”


MVR50,000 offered for information leading to Rilwan’s return

The family of journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla have offered a reward of MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for information leading to the successful return of the 28-year-old, missing for 15 days.

“We feel that this investigation is very slow compared to the seriousness of the problem,” explained Rilwan’s brother, Moosa.

“And the government is not taking this seriously.”

Moosa called on anyone with relevant information to contact the family on 7791120 or 7773250.

Following criticism of President Abdulla Yameen’s response to questions regarding the disappearance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Thursday evening (August 21) expressing “deep concern”.

Rilwan was last seen on the Malé-Hulhumlé ferry in the early hours of August 8, less than an hour before neighbours reported seeing a man forced into a vehicle outside his home.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon also expressed concern regarding acts of intimidation and reprisals to journalists in general.

“Freedom of media facilities a greater degree of interconnectedness and awareness in the community, and is the cornerstone of any democratic society. Therefore, the protection and safety of journalists is fundamental not only at an individual level, but at a national and international level as well,” read the statement.

Rilwan’s disappearance has prompted media outlets across the political spectrum to band together, with a joint statement calling for an end to a persistent culture  of media intimidation expected later today.

All media outlets involved in the statement are now prepared to call Rilwan’s disappearance a case of abduction.

“We are very grateful for all journalists’ support,” said Minivan News News Editor Zaheena Rasheed, who has spearheaded the coalition of concerned journalists.

“Rilwan’s disappearance comes at a time of continued intimidation of the press. We want to send out the message that we will not allow such intimidation to continue.”

Threats made against journalists covering gang violence in June followed a series of attacks on media facilities and personnel over the past two years.

The attempted murder of blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 was followed by the near-fatal beating of journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed and the later arson attack on his employer Raajje TV in 2013.

No convictions have been made in relation to any of these incidents, although two men are currently on trial for the Asward attack.

Following Rilwan’s disappearance, threats against media personnel have continued, with discussions amongst journalists revealing an extended and pervasive campaign of intimidation cutting across political party lines.

Police raided a number of residences in the capital Malé on Thursday evening though police told local media that they were unable to reveal whether the searches were in relation to the missing journalist.

The Home Ministry last week assured that Rilwan’s disappearance had been given “high priority”, with a team of 40 officers now working alongside divers from the Maldives National Defence Force in the search.

A statement released by police on Wednesday (August 20) called for an end to public criticism of its investigation.

“It is with regret we note that some politicians and media outlets have been spreading false information that leads public to feel concerned about police work,” read the statement.

“Although the police did not provide every detail of every measurement taken by the police or every work police did, for security reasons, the police have provided details to adequate people.”

After interviewing witnesses regarding the abduction, Minivan News delayed publication after consultation with police, for the above reasons. After publication by other media outlets, however, Minivan felt compelled to release sufficient details to the public to make clear the nature of the case.

“The police advises not to politicise the issue concerning the missing journalist and not to spread information that will lead people to be concerned of police work, to all the politicians and media outlets that work as such,” continued the statement.

Numerous international groups, including the UN Office for the Commissioner of Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders, have expressed concern over the disappearance and called for a swift response from authorities.


Comment: #findmoyaameehaa

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Thursday night, two weeks ago, was the last time anyone saw Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla, 28-year-old journalist, blogger, human rights advocate and all-round great person.

A lot—yet nothing—has happened since Rizwan was reported missing to the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on 13 August.

On 15 August Rizwan’s family and friends organised a search of Hulhumalé, the island neighbouring Male’ on which Rizwan lives on his own. Starting with the desolate, deserted areas—-of which there are many—-the search party combed the whole island. It was in vain.

On 16 August Rizwan’s friends and colleagues, who obtained CCTV footage from the Malé-Hulhumalé ferry terminal from the night he was last seen, identified him on camera buying a ticket and going into the waiting area to board the 1:00 a.m. ferry on 8 August. This footage has since been made public. For the next twenty minutes or so—-the amount of time it takes for the ferry to reach Hulhumalé—-Rizwan was on Twitter. Between 1:02 a.m. he sent out 11 (mostly re-) Tweets, beginning with this one, which said he had just boarded the ferry:

His last Tweet was at 1:17 a.m three minutes before the ferry would have reached Hulhumalé.  According to Rizwan’s employer, Minivan News, he sent a Viber message at 1:42 a.m. The newspaper further reports that according to Rizwan’s telephone service provider that his mobile phone was last used at 2:36 a.m. at a location in Male’. Since then, nothing.

There was a shocking development to the story a few days after the search for Rizwan began. On the night he was last seen, two witnesses saw a man being abducted from outside Rizwan’s apartment around 2:00 a.m. Minivan News, which withheld the information until it was made public by other news outlets, published details of the abduction on 18 August. The witnesses heard screaming and saw the captive, held at knife point by a tall thin man, being bundled into a red car which drove away at speed. The witnesses contacted the police immediately. They also recovered a knife from the scene. The police took a statement and confiscated the knife.

And that was that.

It is mind-boggling that there were no searches in Hulhumalé after eye-witness reports of an abduction, no sealing off of exits to and from the island, no investigation in and around the area of the abduction to at least ascertain who had been bundled into the car. If the police had done any of this, Rizwan’s family would have been aware of his disappearance so much sooner. Two weeks on, the police still don’t seem to have managed to locate the red car—-this on a 700 hectare island with the total number of cars totalling around fifty, if that.

Outrage at police ‘incompetence’ has grown steadily as days turn into weeks without news of Rizwan’s whereabouts. MPS’ reaction to the criticism has been petulant, like an offended prima donna. It issued a long statement demanding that the public stop criticising police given how brilliant they obviously are; and, unbelievably, proceeded to hold a press conference about Rizwan to which all media outlets bar his own Minivan News was invited.

Speculation that MPS does not want Rizwan found is becoming fact as time passes with no leads. How incompetent does a force have to be to remain clueless about how a person was abducted from a small island? How many red cars can be hidden on such a small piece of land, surrounded by the sea? How difficult would it be to locate the individuals caught on CCTV following Rizwan at the ferry terminal in Male’? It is common knowledge that life in Male’ is now governed by an ‘unholy alliance’ of ‘born-again’ fanatically ‘religious’ gangsters and thugs controlled by politicians and fundamentalists.

Whatever the police is driven by—fear, complicity, support—it is certain the government shares its ‘could not care less’ attitude. President Yameen’s callous response on 20 August to news of Rizwan’s disappearance confirmed this: ‘I cannot comment on anything and everything that happens, can I? The police are probably looking into it.’

It is as if the disappearance of a young man, a journalist and well-known human rights advocate—the first incident of its kind in the Maldives—is as routine as a mislaid shopping list. The President, who campaigned as saviour of the youth population, had not a word to say about the abduction and disappearance a young man of vast potential. Yameen chose, instead, to wax lyrical on his success at begging in China, having procured a 100 million US dollars in aid money for building a bridge between Malé and Hulhumalé, the island where Rizwan is feared to have been abducted from.

Who wants a bridge to an island that is so unsafe? An island where women are raped in broad daylight and young men disappear without a trace? Where gangsters and violent extremists rule, where the police turn a blind eye to crime and where the streets have no lights?

It is quite extraordinary that a president of a country sees no need to express concern for a citizen whose sudden disappearance has led to statements from international bodies ranging from the UN Human Rights Commissionerto media associations such as Reporters Without Borders, CPJIFJ and South Asia Media Solidarity Network as well as news outlets and human rights advocates in the region and across the world.

In some of this week’s news coverage, Rizwan’s name is on top of the world’s missing journalists’ list. According to Minivan News, many foreign diplomats based in Colombo have made the time to listen to its concerns about Rizwan’s abduction.

Perhaps prompted by diplomatic concern, over a week after Rizwan’s disappearance became public knowledge, the Maldives Foreign Ministry finally issued a hastily put together statement yesterday, full of factual and other types of mistakes, expressing a perfunctory concern hard to accept as sincere.

While the politicians, the gangsters and the religious fanatics with their support of Jihad, beheadings and other forms of killing trip over each other to ignore, laugh about, cover-up and prevent knowledge of what has happened to Rizwan, friends, family, and admirers of his deep humanity, are unflagging in their hopes and efforts to find him safe and sound.

It is on social media, where he is known as Moyameeha, that Rizwan has made his widest impact. The Maldivian Twitter community is especially bereft without his presence. It is not surprising. The off-line Maldivian society has been largely taken over by gangs, zealots and bigots. There is no safe place for people like Rizwan—with bold ideas, open minds and creativity—to come together in real life. So they gather on Twitter—the most free of modern media platforms—exchange thoughts, discuss politics, make poetry and music, argue, joke, laugh, and cry, become friends and form the kind of free, liberal and tolerant public sphere they cannot have off-line. Rizwan is a shining star of that community, one of its well-liked and giving members. The community wants him back.

Close friends have set-up a website,, where everything that is officially  said and done in relation to Rizwan’s disappearance is gathered in one place. It also counts every passing second since he went missing. Friends have also set up Facebook pages dedicated to finding Rizwan while existing Facebook pages that support him have created a repository of online tributes:

Bloggers, who look up to him as one of the first to make an impact in the sphere, have been paying homage, re-finding and sharing some of his most moving posts. Rizwan’s friends discuss his poetry, his love of music (and obsession with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), his enthusiasm for Dhivehi language, folklore and history, and most of all his never-ending good nature and empathy. Even the deeply divided and highly politicised journalistic community appears to be waking from a deep slumber, and putting their differences aside to demand that efforts to find Rizwan be stepped up.

Over the past few years the Maldives Police Service has become highly adept at being ‘incompetent’, at being ‘unable’ to solve the crimes they don’t want solved while putting all their efforts into hunting down bootleggers, cannabis smokers and petty criminals. If they catch any major offenders, the corrupt judiciary lets them go; so why bother? This being police ‘best practice’, a majority of the Maldivian population now choose to ‘forget’ unsolved crimes, stop asking questions, and carry on as nothing happened.

Not this time. Rizwan’s family, friends, supporters and like-minded journalists are not going to stop asking questions and looking for answers. Because if they do, it is the last nail in the coffin of Rizwan’s vision—shared by those looking for him—of a tolerant Maldivian society in which people are free to think, embrace diversity and difference, be creative, live safely and have the right to peace and happiness.


MDP slams president’s response to journalist’s disappearance

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has slammed President Abdulla Yameen for a perceived lack of empathy when questioned about the missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

When asked by a journalist about the matter upon his return from China yesterday, Yameen refused to comment, saying that the police and Home Ministry had already spoken on the matter.

“A journalist is missing, I think. So work will be done to find the journalist, right? And, God willing, that will be successful,” said Yameen.

The President’s Office had previously noted that the government is “deeply saddened and concerned” over Rilwan’s disappearance 13 days ago.

An MDP statement today, however, accused the president of being “irresponsible” in his reply to the question, and criticised him for failing to publicly express concern over the disappearance, now believed to have been an abduction.

With international concern growing over the disappearance of Rilwan – 28-years-old – the opposition party noted the example of US President Barack Obama, who addressed the nation yesterday following the murder of journalist James Foley.

“We note this is how a president in a democratic state becomes accountable to citizens,” read the statement.

The Home Ministry yesterday revealed the the Maldives National Defence Force had joined a team of 40 police officers in a search which now included the Hulhumalé lagoon.

Rilwan was last seen on a ferry heading to Hulhumalé in the early hours of August 8, while neighbours reported a man being forced into a car close to Rilwan’s apartment less than an hour later.

Ascribing the case “top priority” status, Home Minister Umar Naseer acknowledged reports of the abduction incident, but said police had not yet been able to establish a link to Rilwan.

The Home Ministry failed to inform Minivan News of the latest press conference, with officials later explaining that the oversight had not been intentional.

International groups including Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations Office for the Commissioner of Human Rights have expressed concern over Rilwan’s disappearance, calling for a thorough investigation.


MPs call for expeditious investigation of Minivan News journalist’s disappearance

MPs today expressed concern with the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and called for an expeditious investigation during a debate on a motion without notice submitted by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

Presenting the motion, Imthiyaz said the authorities were neither adequately investigating the disappearance nor sharing findings with the family or the public.

“[Rilwan] disappeared [11 days ago] while journalists were being sent death threats very openly and while [Rilwan] was also facing various forms of intimidation regarding his reporting,” reads the motion.

Imthiyaz referred to the MDP bringing to the government’s attention the abduction and intimidation of alleged advocates of secularism by a vigilante group in early June, noting that no action had been taken to date.

He also referred to the arson attack against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV and near-fatal assault of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

Feared abduction

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”

“Malé has become a jail in broad daylight, full of fear. Now since the threats started being sent, the first person, a journalist, has been abducted. In the future, you will see many MPs being brutally murdered. It is being planned and executed now,” he claimed.

Imthiyaz meanwhile noted that the case has been submitted to three parliamentary oversight committees “to hold the government accountable” regarding the investigation.

Imthiyaz revealed that he received a text message threatening to “behead” him after he submitted the motion yesterday.

He slammed the government for failure to provide security for MPs in the face of death threats and intimidation.

Referring to Minivan News reporting eyewitnesses seeing a man in dark clothes being forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment around 2am on August 8, Imthiyaz questioned police’s failure to investigate the incident after it was reported.

“So there is room for us to suspect that police are aware of this and are deliberately not investigating,” Imthiyaz said.


Imthiyaz’s urgent motion was accepted for debate with bipartisan support after 51 MPs voted in favour. One MP, however, voted against the motion, which opens the floor for a one-hour debate on matters of urgent public importance.

During the debate, opposition MPs criticised police efforts to find Rilwan as sluggish and lacking seriousness, whilst pro-government MPs defended and lauded the police.

While Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs insisted that police were doing everything possible, MDP MPs contended that public safety was no longer assured in the Maldives.

However, all MPs stressed the seriousness of the case and extended sympathy to Rilwan’s family, praying for his safe return and wishing success in the search effort’s of family and friends.

PPM MP Abdulla Rifau noted that police have searched Hulhumalé for three days and advised against “obstructing” the investigation with unwarranted speculation.

He added that the ruling party had put out a press statement expressing concern and calling for a swift investigation.

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem suggested conducting awareness raising programmes and teaching self-defence to children and adolescents.

PPM MP Abdulla Sinan said any hinderance or threat to those who impart information was “unacceptable.”

Rilwan had been expressing his “independent thought,” he continued, which “sometimes conflicted with some of our tenets and bases”.

However, he added, there should be an unfettered environment for free media in a democracy.

PPM MP Ahmed Ameeth – a former DhiTV presenter – said journalists were in a state of fear and warned that Rilwan’s disappearance would adversely affect press freedom.

Liberal versus conservative interpretation of Islam

Referring to media reports claiming former President Mohamed Nasheed spoke against enforcing Islamic Shariah, PPM MP Ahmed Thoriq said neither journalists nor former presidents could “work against the tenets of Islamic Shariah in this country.”

“While journalists against capital punishment are going missing, this is something we should really think about,” the former football star said.

Thoriq criticised Minivan News for reporting updates on the investigation before police revealed information to the public and urged sharing information with the police.

“If [they] want to be the paper that breaks every piece of information the quickest, in truth it is likely that the person they are looking for might not be found,” he said.

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain meanwhile suggested fostering a national debate on the issue of disagreements concerning Islam, arguing that there was “a clash” between a conservative or “literalist” interpretation and a more “liberal” interpretation.

Rilwan’s disappearance was the result of “intolerance” between the two schools of thought, he contended, advising changes to the curriculum to inculcate tolerance.

“We have to teach how to live with people of different opinions. We cannot establish the democratic environment we want without doing so,” he said.


Minivan News journalist feared abducted

Information gathered by Minivan News strongly suggests that journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was abducted in the early hours of August 8 in Hulhumalé.

Two eyewitnesses in Hulhumalé have reported seeing a man in dark clothes being forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment at around 2am.

CCTV footage of the Malé ferry terminal obtained earlier by Minivan News shows Rilwan entering the waiting area at 12:44am wearing a black shirt, rather than turquoise, as had previously been reported.

A tweet from Rilwan’s account @moyameeha at 1:02am implies he was on the one o’clock ferry, suggesting he would have reached his apartment between 1:30am and 2am on August 8. Another man who claimed to have sat next to Rilwan on the ferry has also been positively identified on CCTV footage, entering the waiting area at 12:54am.

Neighbours claim to have heard screaming before seeing a man being forced into a vehicle. From a balcony 20 feet away they reported seeing a tall thin man holding his right hand over the captive’s mouth from behind.

The thin man was then seen to drop something before the car sped off, its door still open. One observer subsequently went down to the street and found the weapon before alerting police, who took statements and confiscated the weapon.

Further statements were taken from the witnesses after Rilwan’s family reported his disappearance on August 13. Minivan News understands that no other persons have been reported missing from Hulhumalé.

Minivan News has consulted with police regarding the disclosure of this information for fear of hindering the ongoing investigation. It is released now only after its appearance in other media.

Further analysis of CCTV footage from the Malé ferry terminal – conducted with security experts with experience in counter-terrorism – also shows a number of men who appear to be tracking Rilwan’s movements before boarding the same 1:00am ferry.

The experts also alleged an “unholy alliance” between gangs and religious radicals, as evident by a number of abductions in June. Two men were briefly held and accused of being ‘secularists’.

Blogger and journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed had his throat slit in 2012 by a similar group after publicly calling for religious tolerance. He narrowly survived, and fled the country seeking asylum abroad. His attackers were never prosecuted and remain at large. The security experts informed Minivan News that Rilwan was also considered a target.

Hulhumalé – the location for the government’s ambitious youth-city ‘mega-project’ – has become attractive to radical groups due to its low levels of policing in comparison to the crowded capital island across the channel, they explained.

Residents of the Hulhumalé suburb interviewed during Minivan’s investigation reported an atmosphere of fear, with little trust in the police’s ability to protect them from the radical groups said to be increasingly common on the island.

The security experts suggested that many within the security forces had indeed themselves become radicalised – a claim previously made by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

On Friday (August 15), members of Rilwan’s family received phone calls and were also approached outside a mosque with anonymous warnings to call off the search efforts of around 30 friends and relatives.

The International Federation of Journalists, the Progressive Party of Maldives, and the MDP have all called on the government to speed up its investigations, with the MDP demonstrating outside the UN for greater pressure on the government.

President Abdulla Yameen’s Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government is “deeply saddened and concerned” over Rilwan’s disappearance, while police continue to appeal for public assistance in the search.

Minivan News is grateful for all the police’s efforts and urges the public to work closely to coordinate search efforts with the Maldives Police Service.

Images of the suspicious individuals has not been included, in accordance with the police’s wishes


Few clues in search for missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The search for missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla continued without success today, eight days after his last sighting.

“We are very grateful to all those involved in the search,” said Rilwan’s sister Fathimath Shehenaz.

“We are very worried. We want him home safe. We will not give up,” she added.

A team of around 30 friends and family members focused efforts on the more isolated areas of Rilwan’s island of residence Hulhumalé today, after earlier reports had suggested he was aboard the 1:30am ferry from Malé on August 8.

However, as the group continued its own investigations into Rilwan’s last known location, CCTV footage – seen by Minivan News – does not show Rilwan entering the Malé terminal between midnight and 3am.

Additionally, information from a source within Ooredoo traces Rilwan’s last mobile data usage to 2:36am somewhere in the Henveiru area of Malé. A second source has corroborated the time of the signal.

During today’s search, a member of Rilwan’s family has reported receiving an call from an unlisted number warning him to stop the search and go home.

Chief Inspector Abdulla Sathee met with the volunteers today, pledging the police’s cooperation with all those concerned in ensuring Rilwan is found.

While Rilwan’s most recent movements remain a mystery, it is known that he left his motorbike by the carnival grounds some time after leaving his friends at around 12:45am.

One of his final tweets, at 1:03am, suggested sighting local actor Yoosuf Shafeeu (Yooppe) at the ferry terminal, while his final viber message was sent at 1:42am.

Minivan News urges the public contribute any relevant information – in particular CCTV footage from the Henveiru area.

We would also like to express gratitude to local media for their coverage of Rilwan’s case, and request they continue to dedicate attention to his disappearance until he is found.

Rilwan had recently talked to friends and colleagues of taking some time out in the islands, while it is not uncommon for him to periodically drop out of contact – normally for no more than three days.

“Rilwan’s continued absence is a source of great concern for friends and family alike. He is sorely missed at home, in the office, and online,” said Minivan News Managing Editor Daniel Bosley.

“The well documented issues with the intimidation of journalists and human rights activists in the Maldives mean it is vitally important for police to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation in order to allay rampant speculation.”

Rilwan, also known as @moyameehaa by his followers on Twitter, is a softly spoken yet passionate advocate of democracy and free speech. He writes on many subjects, including religion, politics, and the environment.

He had reported some online intimidation as well as instances of being followed from work in recent months, though he had received no threats in days prior to his disappearance.

After studying journalism in India, Rilwan worked for both the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and local newspaper Miadhu before joining Minivan News last December.

He was last seen wearing black trousers and a turquoise shirt. He is 28-years-old, of medium build, around 5ft 10 inches tall, with a short beard.

Police have also confirmed that immigration records show he has not left the country, while there is no evidence to suggest that he returned to his apartment.

Anyone with further information call the Police Hotline 332 2111, or Serious and Organised Crime Department at 9911099. Alternatively, Rilwan’s family can be contacted on 775 4566 or 977 3250.