No evidence linking reported abduction to Rilwan disappearance, says police

The police have said that there is no evidence linking the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August last year to a reported abduction outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Rilwan’s neighbours had reported seeing a man forced into a red car at knifepoint outside the apartment building in the early hours of August 8, at the same time he would have reached home.

In a statement released today, the police said they have received DNA analysis of samples taken from three cars suspected to have been used in the abduction, but could not “conclusively state” that there was a connection between the incident and Rilwan’s disappearance.

“We also note that this analysis did not provide any evidence of a link to the suspects previously arrested in this case,” the police said.

Four suspects had been arrested in October and one suspect was held in police custody for five weeks, but the Criminal Court transferred him to house arrest in November.

One of the suspects was among a group of 12 Maldivian jihadis who traveled to Syria in January. The group also included Azlif Rauf, a suspect in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, who reportedly died while fighting in Syria in mid-May.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network had identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of the red car which may have been used in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.

The report implicated radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance and confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang led by the Rauf brothers.

Home minister Umar Naseer had also also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Today’s police statement meanwhile follows Rilwan’s family backing an opposition proposal for an independent inquiry last week. The family also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after Rilwan’s disappearance.

The police vowed to continue efforts to find the missing journalist and the investigation into his disappearance “no matter how long it takes” and urged anyone with information to come forward.

Rilwan’s disappearance was “one of the cases that police investigation teams gave the highest priority to and spent the most time investigating in 2014,” the police said.

Police investigators have questioned 198 people, obtained statements from more than 80 individuals, and retrieved more than 293 hours of CCTV video footage, the statement noted.

The police also searched public spaces, closed areas, and industrial areas in Hulhumalè, the statement continued, and searched more than 50 places in the suburb with court warrants.

In a press release last week, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year.

A petition with 5,500 signatures calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to the parliament last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed last week and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission 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.


Police forensic expert testifies in Afrasheem murder trial

A police forensic expert has testified in court that he found the DNA of three individuals on jeans worn by Hussain Humam, the main suspect in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Local media reported today at the hearing that the forensic expert told the judge that one of these DNA samples matched a the DNA sample of taken from Dr Afrasheem.

He told the court that the second DNA sample obtained matched that of Humam himself. He did not say whether the third sample was identified.

The expert told the judge that the chance of the DNA sample not being Dr Afrasheem was one in 9.8 billion and the chance of Humam’s DNA sample being wrong was one in 1.4 billion.

During the trial Humam’s lawyer Abdulla Haseen asked the forensic expert about the date he received Humam’s jeans, and was informed that he received them on October 2.

Haseen contended that while Dr Afrasheem was murdered between 12:00am to 1:00am on October 1, and Humam was arrested at 1:45am the same night, there was a window for police to put Dr Afrasheem’s DNA sample on Humam’s jeans, and asked the expert if he was able to determine at what time Humam’s jeans received the sample.

The forensic expert told the court that he was unable to determine the time.

Before concluding today’s hearing, the judge announced that another hearing into the case would be scheduled soon.

Dr Afrasheem was a well-known religious scholar and the MP for Ungoofaaru constituency. He was stabbed to death on the night of October 1, on the staircase of his home.

State prosecutors accused Humam, along with Ali Shan – who is also facing the same charges – and a minor identified as ‘Nangi’, of going to the residence of Dr Afrasheem and murdering him with a machete and a bayonet knife.

Humam initially confessed to the murder, but later withdraw his statement claiming it had been extracted under police duress.