International concern over missing journalist grows while threats continue

Politicians and journalists have continued to receive death threats as international groups express concern regarding the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan 12 days ago.

“We call upon all parties to refrain from threatening media activists for performing their professional duties,” read a statement released by the Office for the United Nations Commissioner of Human Rights yesterday.

The statement also expressed concern at Rilwan’s disappearance while hoping for a prompt resolution to police investigations.

“We also urge the relevant authorities to address any threats and intimidation directed at journalists and other civil society activists and to do their utmost to ensure that they are able to operate without fear for their safety.”

Meanwhile, a text message sent to Minivan 97 journalist Aishath Aniya at 12.20pm today, from a sender identified as ‘ISIS’, read as follows:

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

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Didi also reported a threat, apparently received from the same sender at 12:25pm warning, “we will not hesitate to disappear you. Have you forgotten you have a small daughter?”

Both politicians and journalists reported receiving threats earlier this month, with Rilwan himself reporting on the latter threats.

Representatives of Minivan News in Colombo met today with diplomats representing Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Switzerland and representatives from the EU delegation regarding Rilwan’s disappearance.

Growing concern

Evidence obtained by Minivan News strongly suggests Rilwan, known as @moyameehaa on Twitter, may have been abducted. Security experts have suggested he was targetted as a result of his activities as a journalist and micro-blogger.

The Home Ministry has updated local media today on the progress of the investigation, with Home Minister Umar Naseer assuring that 40 of the country’s best officers were working on the case.

Yesterday also saw further statements on Rilwan’s case from the International Federation for Journalists (IFJ) with the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The IFJ and SAMSN noted that Rilwan’s disappearance had come “at a time of increased tension in the Maldives with a spike in threats against the media by criminal gangs and religious extremists in recent weeks.”

A number of abductions and attacks targeting perceived secularists and homosexuals were reported prior to the Ramadan period, with a rise in gang violence following the Eid holidays.

“The disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan has now become a matter of grave concern as his whereabouts have not been known for 11 days. We urge the Maldivian government and concerned agencies to do everything possible to find him,” read the joint statement.

The IFJ and SAMSN comprise all major journalists’ trade unions and press freedom organisations in South Asia.

“Critical time has been lost in the search for Ahmed and if the government hopes to ensure journalists can continue in their duties to report freely and without fear in the Maldives.”

“For the sake of Ahmed’s family and media freedom, the circumstances of his disappearance must be determined as a matter of urgency and if there has been misadventure or deliberate intervention, then every effort must be put to locate those responsible,” the statement continued.

Additionally, the New York-based CPJ noted that Rilwan had been particularly critical of local politicians and Islamists, urging a thorough investigation.

“We are deeply concerned for the well-being of our colleague Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

“We urge the authorities to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to find him.”

Reporters Without Borders have already lent their voice to calls for an expedited search for the 28-year-old human rights advocate.