Centre for Law and Democracy suggests Maldives failing to protect journalists

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has accused the Maldives of failing to protect journalists following recent attacks on media and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

In an open letter to President Abdulla Yameen, the Canadian Human Rights NGO described Rilwan’s disappearance 55 days ago as fitting into “a broader pattern of violence and intimidation directed towards the media in the Maldives”.

“CLD calls on the government of the Republic of Maldives to do everything within its power to rescue Mr. Rilwan and to bring the perpetrators of this and other crimes against the media to justice,” wrote CLD Executive Director Toby Mendel.

Rilwan was last seen in the early hours of August 8 travelling home, just minutes before a man was seen being forced into a car outside his apartment.

The release of a private investigation’s findings into the case last week suggested that – among a number of possible lines of inquiry – gang-related abduction was a strong possibility in the case.

Police have since arrested four men in relation to the disappearance, though no specific theories for the disappearance have yet been forthcoming from authorities.

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed and Attorney General Mohamed Anil were both sent copies of the CLD letter addressed to President Yameen.

Taking note of the “generally deteriorating security situation for journalists in the Maldives”, the letter suggested that the country was failing to live up to its international human rights obligations.

“International human rights law places an obligation on States to create an environment in which the media can do its job effectively,” wrote Mendel.

“This includes, where necessary, providing protection for the physical security of journalists and media outlets and ensuring effective investigations of attacks when they do occur.”

The police investigation has come under scrutiny from numerous domestic and international groups for its lack of progress, while the force itself labelled the recent investigative report  “politically motivated” and “irresponsible”.

President Yameen himself has also come under attack for his failure to comment on the unprecedented case of the 28-year-old’s disappearance, with the political opposition recently urging him to take personal charge of the investigation.

Reporters Without Borders has drawn links between the attack on the offices of Minivan News last week and the release of the report. A machete was left in the door of the offices after a well-known individual – named in the report – was seen tearing down the building’s CCTV.

Minivan News has since relocated its office for security reasons.

“Attacks on the media represent attacks on freedom of expression and indeed democracy itself, since they chill the broader public discourse and hinder the ability of members of the public to obtain accurate information about the country’s affairs.”

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon last week joined international groups in condemning the attack on Minivan News as well as the threats received by journalists later the same day (September 25).

“Media freedom and freedom expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Maldives and the human rights instruments that the Maldives is party to,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“At the ongoing Human Rights Council Session in Geneva the Maldives co-sponsored the resolution calling for the safety of journalist.”

Both Canada and the EU have since expressed alarm at the current human rights situation in the Maldives.