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

Aminath Easa, 67, is the mother of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan. She has led the search for her son, appearing on the frontline of marches and efforts to lobby the government and politicians. Rilwan is the youngest of her nine children.

Zaheena Rasheed: Tell me of the last time you saw Rilwan.

Aminath Easa: He came home, and ate with me before he went to Hulhumalé. He does not answer his phone during the weekend. He always tells us he wants to sleep, do chores, do his laundry. We don’t call him during the weekend. People say we took too much time to report him as missing. But we started looking for him as soon as we could not reach him. Of course, we did not call him during the weekend. But at the start of the week, we called his friends. We were concerned, we went to his apartment.

From that day on, for the past five months, we’ve been looking for him without rest. 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.

My son was not lost at sea. My son was abducted. It was an organised and planned abduction. He did not run away. My heart tells me he is alive. To this day I believe he is alive.  This is truly the biggest pain a family has to bear. I am old, but I have never had to bear such pain.

ZR: What do you think of the government’s response?

AE: I am not at all happy with the government’s response. 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. I said so to [Home Minister] Umar Naseer.

Why has President Abdulla Yameen refused our request for a meeting? We are his citizens. It is his citizen who has been abducted. We would receive some satisfaction if they would just meet us. But the two Presidents [President Abdulla Yameen and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] refused to meet us. Yameen’s wife refused as well. This is how poor, how helpless we are. I have always struggled in my life, but I have never had to face such fear, such sadness. But we will continue to lobby them. I will continue to request them to find my son.

People tell me, you are so brave, if it were me I wouldn’t be able to get up, I tell them, how can I lie down? Should I give up hope, wait til I die, saying he is gone, that he will not come back? That will not do. I must work with my family, as a mother, I must give my children courage. If I lie down, they will have to look after me as they look for him. There is no one else. We are calling on the public to help us. The government does not help us.

ZR: How has the long search affected your family?

AE: My children are looking for him 24/7. His brother was recently very sick, he collapsed in December and had to get tests done abroad. Doctors told him he was under too much stress, to stop thinking. But how can he? I too worry. But I do not cry infront of my children. I do not let them know. I do not cry in front of my friends. But when I am alone in my room, I cannot help but cry.

I pray to Allah to grant me patience. Allah will grant me patience. I have never borne such a pain. I have looked after nine children by myself. I do not have family, just a half brother. He is quite old now. I do not have anyone but my children and God. My children are very good to me.

ZR: Tell me about your daily routine? How has it changed since Rilwan disappeared?

AE: I was never one to stay at home. In this day and age, people no longer visit their neighbors, but I do. I wake up at dawn, do my prayers, go for a walk around Malé, and go to yoga. Then I cook, and after lunch I visit my friends till Asr prayers. After performing Asr prayers, I visit my neighbors again until dusk.

But I no longer want to visit the houses I used to. They speak about Rilwan. They ask me, what happened to him? They tell me he must have been killed. This is what most people say. So I do not want to see people any more. I have changed a lot. I spend a lot of time alone, at home, with my children and praying to Allah to bring my son back to me.

ZR: Your family has consulted clairvoyants? What are their predictions?

AE: We have consulted astrologists. But there is no certainty in their predictions. They tell us he is alive, but that he will not come back to us anytime soon. We tell them, we know that. He can only come back when those who are holding him let him go.

Umar Naseer told the media once that we will know what happened to Rilwan when he comes back, whether he was abducted, whether it was a voluntary disappearance. I went and met [Naseer] afterwards and I questioned him, why are you saying this? Yes, when he comes back we too will ask him, where have you been? Who took you? Why must the government ministers speak like this? The government is not working on this at all. At all. And so we must continue lobbying, pressuring the government. This is our work, this is what we must do.

ZR: Are you hopeful? From whom do you draw your strength?

AE: I have hope. I have never given up hope. As long as I live, until I die, until we find him, I will continue. I will continue. Even if its just me and a handful of family members and his friends, I will come out and march on the streets. I will go even if no one goes. Some people have said the turnout was low during the second march. I say, I do not mind, we will continue. But we will invite everyone to join us, for the sake of humanity.

I draw strength from my children and my friends. I am very happy by the efforts of the media and Rilwan’s friends. His friends, I love them as if they were my children. I do not feel alone now, because of their efforts. When I feel sad, I ask for patience, Allah gives patience to all humans.

ZR: What does Rilwan’s disappearance say about peace and security in the Maldives?

AE: There is no peace and security for anyone. When I go for my daily walk, I am scared. But Allah has ordered us to keep in good health. That is why I go, even though I am quite old now. I go alone, I walk all around Malé. Sometimes I look back in fear. Before this, I was never afraid. I am afraid now.

I feel as if I am being followed, because I am looking for my son. For a time, I did not go for my walk, but then I thought to myself, I must not stay at home. If I must die, I will die. It is not wise to hide, to stop my work for fear of death.

ZR: There have been over 33 deaths in the past seven years. Many families have lost their sons and daughters. What is your message to them?

AE: To families who have suffered injustice, I want to say, why do you remain silent when your children have been murdered? Who are you afraid of? Your government? Allah? Do not fear. Allah has ordered us to keep trying, to continue in the face of hardship.

My son has been disappeared, and I will do all I can, without rest, to find him. Your sons have been killed. If you remain silent, another’s son will be killed. And this cycle will go on. If families had demanded justice with the first killing, we would not be where we are today. Every day, there are more knifings, more death. These families who have suffered, they are afraid to stand up, they fear our leaders.

We were not allowed to speak our minds before, and I am afraid the same day has returned. My heart does not say my son is dead. But everyone else believes he is dead. He can only come back when those who have him release him.

Friends and family of Rilwan will gather outside of the Hulhumalé ferry terminal, in Malé, this afternoon at 4:30 to celebrate his 29th birthday. All are invited to come and write a message for Rilwan on the 163rd day since his disappearance.

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Fear, intimidation aimed at stalling development, says Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over a regression in democratic gains, and claimed government’s attempts at intimidation and fear is intended to stall development.

Speaking at an August 12 commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Maldives’ first mass pro-democracy protests, Nasheed said August 12, 13 of 2004 was a “day Maldivians stood up against torture and called for what is rightfully theirs.”

“On that day, Maldivians gathered to realise their hopes. That day, Maldivians called for what they continue to call for today. Housing, education, healthcare, income generation, a dignified life,” he said.

In what would later be referred to as ‘Black Friday’, security forces teargassed and brutalised protestors and cut off all mediums of communication including messaging services and internet. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom announced a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Hundreds of protesters were detained for months.

The Maldives is once again seeing a return to its authoritarian past with the recent increase in death threats against opposition politicians, Nasheed said.

“Inciting fear is aimed at stalling development,” he said, alleging the death threats was a government attempt to stop the opposition from criticising and uncovering the truth behind its “cloud castle” policies.

“Torture in jails, killing Evan Naseem, or putting me in stocks is not aimed at torturing Galholhu Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed, or killing Evan Naseem, but to incite fear among the public. To let it be known criticising the powers that be is dangerous,” he said.

Criticising the dissolution of the ruling progressive coalition and President Abdulla Yameen’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill, Nasheed said Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had backtracked on campaign pledges after assuming power.

The PPM at the time had portrayed Maldives as a holy land, pledged to end foreign interference and uphold sovereignty. But the SEZs, Nasheed suggested, will allow foreign companies to plunder Maldivian resources without any oversight.

“In the special economic zones, there will be no duty, no immigration, no customs, no Maldivian laws,” he said.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party in a statement on Tuesday also said: “on the tenth anniversary of August 12, 13, we note, with great concern, we have slid back to the conditions of pre-2008.”

It listed Nasheed’s controversial ouster in 2012, police brutality of February 7 and 8 in 2012, the Supreme Court and police interference in the 2013 presidential polls, increased incidences of arbitrary arrest, government’s violations of freedom of expression and association, filing trumped up charges and murder attempts against opposition supporters and threats to freedom of the press as signs of regression.

Nasheed in his speech also criticised attempts at limiting the powers of councils, and what he claimed was the return of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s narrative that the Maldives is a resource poor nation.

The mantra allows the government to slow down development, at the pace of one harbour a year and harbors for the 196 inhabited islands in 196 years, he said.

The MDP has exposed the narrative as a falsehood as it increased government revenue, without a dramatic increase in national gross domestic product, by establishing a modern tax system, Nasheed said

He went on to claim the protesters gathered at the Republic Square in August 2004 could have overthrown Gayoom and replaced him with Gayoom’s brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim.

Ibrahim contested against Gayoom in 1993 for the People’s Majlis vote for the presidential candidacy, but narrowly failed and was subsequently jailed and banished for a number of years.

Nasheed also claimed senior military officers had told him Gayoom could be ousted in 2007 through a military coup d’état, but the MDP resisted.

“We do not want to overthrow the government through a coup. We want a system that facilitates development,” he said.


Maldives’ police investigate suspected black magic doll at polling station

Police were summoned to investigate an alleged black magic doll after it was discovered at the Shaviyani Atoll School polling station during the presidential election vote counting.

The suspicious ‘fanditha’ (black magic) doll was first noticed on the school’s wall by an Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) election observer as well as polling station officials on Kanditheemu Island during the vote counting process Saturday (September 7). They contacted local police to investigate the suspicious doll.

“The police just checked whether the doll was real [fanditha],” MDP Kanditheemu Campaign Manager Mohamed ‘Mox’ Fahumee told Minivan News today (September 9). “They did not actually want to get involved in such [black magic related] things.”

After the police were called to the polling station they – and local islanders – asked community members, the Shaviyani Atoll School’s site supervisor, and Bangladeshi labourers working at the school to try and discover who made the doll and with what intention, explained Fahumee.

“One of the laborers told us he made it ‘just for fun’ to pass the time, since they do not have very much work to do,” said Fahumee. “He made the doll from wool, putty, and wall paint and then placed it on the wall to dry.”

The Maldives Police Service had not responded to enquiries at time of press.

Fanditha fear

“On this island [Kanditheemu] people always talk about black magic during elections. They claim that government aligned parties – the Political Party of the Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), etc – practice fanditha to gain votes,” said Fahumee.

“When people talk about fanditha they become afraid,” noted Fahumee.

“Black magic might work, there are so many stories of people dying because of fanditha. During elections people talk about that and it spreads [around the island] very quickly, but they talk in secret,” he continued.

Swing voters who are not strongly in favor one candidate or political party versus another are particularly susceptible to fearing black magic will influence their vote, he explained.

“If they are finding it difficult to select a candidate and they are afraid [of black magic influence], they might vote for someone who does not represent their best interests,” he added.

Fahumee explained that while most island residents talk about possible incidents of fanditha, the discussions are conducted in secret, out of fear the island’s black magic practitioner will “come after” the person(s) talking about him.

Although not everyone believes in the power of fanditha, or “accepts those kinds of things”, it is still an issue – and precautions are taken – because it sows fear and uncertainty about the impartiality of the voting process, noted Fahumee.

More cursed coconuts

Concerns of black magic being used for election vote tampering have been raised on several islands in the Maldives.

MDP supporters on Guraidhoo Island in Kaafu Atoll reportedly began lining up to vote at 2:00pm Friday (September 6), after rumours began circulating of a black magic coconut buried at the front of the queue.

It is thought the candidate chosen by the first person in line standing over the coconut would then be the candidate picked by all remaining voters.

“We don’t believe in these things, but some MDP supporters waited just in case,” 25 year-old Guraidhoo resident Hussain Nadheef told Minivan News. “We will never let PPM [use black magic].”

Last week, police summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo Island presidential election polling station.

Coconuts with black magic spells were allegedly being used to sway voters’ political party allegiance and incite confrontations between MDP supporters and police on Fuvahmulah, ahead of Saturday’s Presidential Election.

Given the widespread reporting of black magic election tampering and the cursed coconut issues on Guraidhoo and Fuvahmulah, Minivan News asked Elections Commission Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz whether the issue was raised by any election observers.

Fayaz noted that he had not discussed the issue with any of the observers, and had first read about the story on the UK’s Guardian website.

Asked if he felt that the additional international media spotlight on the election triggered by the coconut may have had a positive impact on the election process, Fayaz laughed and said “maybe”.