The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it will consider a boycott of the overdue national census if authorities fail to find missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.
Newly elected Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the motion would require endorsement by the party’s National Council.
Rilwan – believed to have been abducted – has now been missing for 34 days. The Maldives Police Services has been criticised for its failure to reveal information regarding the investigation.
“President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been negligent towards a Maldivian citizen. We will stand up against that negligence. So we [will ask the National Council] to endorse a boycott of a census held without Rilwan,” Shifaz told the press at a briefing this morning.
“I do want to note the importance of a census. But when we do not know what happens to Maldivians, when citizens have been disappeared, I do not believe we should proceed with a census.”
The census – scheduled to take place between September 20 and 27 – will be the first time such national data has been collected since 2006.
Locals from the island of Vilufushi in Thaa Atoll have also announced that they will be boycotting the census, due to the failure to provide permanent residents for those left homeless after the 2004 tsunami.
Department of National Planning’s Assistant Director Fathimath Riyaza has appealed to all parties to support the census, and called on the public to refrain from connecting the census to Rilwan’s disappearance.
“We, too, are extremely concerned and saddened by the journalist’s disappearance. However, it is not our job to look for and find any particular person. I call on the people to refrain from connecting these two things and to give us information about themselves.”
MDP chairperson Ali Waheed said party members had suggested the boycott and said some felt Rilwan’s disappearance was an act of terrorism by the state.
The MDP has remained quiet on the matter following a request by Rilwan’s family not to politicise the issue, but “MDP cannot remain quiet, he is a citizen just like us,” Waheed said.
Criticising President Yameen’s silence on the disappearance, Waheed said the Maldives had “gone off the tracks” since the new government assumed power.
“People are afraid. People are disappearing, and the government does not care. The truth is the government is failing. It’s been a month since a journalist has gone missing, and it does not seem to be a big deal to the government. The truth is we have regressed 30 years,” he said.
Since Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the parliament, the president cannot throw off responsibility for the state of the nation, he added.
The government’s actions intimidate the press, he said and criticised the government for its failure to provide security for MPs who have also received death threats.
The MDP will embark on a series of actions to hold the government accountable, starting with a rally at the Alimas Carnival in Malé on Thursday, activating internal party committees on government accountability and preparations for upcoming local council by-elections.
The party has also set up a desk to improve relationship between the MDP leadership and councilors, he said.
Arguing there is room to believe Rilwan has been disappeared, Waheed also appealed to the government to clarify the nature of Rilwan’s disappearance.
“The government’s actions are unlike any other in a case of disappearance. Comments made by senior government officials in press conferences suggest he has been abducted. Instead of commenting directly on the matter, every one is suggested he will be found alive,” he said.
Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim last week said he had hope Rilwan would be found safe and sound.
The PPM dominated parliamentary committee on independent institutions oversight in August rejected a motion to summon and question the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and Police Integrity Commission (PIC) on Rilwan’s disappearance.
MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the party would table the same request once again.
Rilwan’s family has previously submitted a petition to the Majlis with 5000 signatures calling on MPs to find answers to questions as yet unanswered by police. Local NGO Maldives Democracy Network has also released an open letter raising a number of issues regarding the cases’s progress.