Friends and family of missing journalist seek to submit a petition to parliament

Friends and family of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan are petitioning the Majlis, posing a series of questions which the family believes “arose due to the negligence of the Maldives Police Services in searching for Rilwan.”

“These are also matters on which state institutions have so far conducted no work in order to reach the truth,” read the questions to be submitted to the national security committee.

The petition calls on all relevant authorities to provide answers for the following questions, urging thorough investigation into the following issues:

  • What is the standard operating procedure for police once a report, such as the abduction that took place on August 8 in Hulhumalé, is lodged? Did police follow these procedures following the said incident?
  • To what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between the abduction reported on August 8 and the report of Rilwan being missing on August 13?
  • What work has been conducted to date in the search for Rilwan? What are the current concerns and thoughts of the police regarding the condition and situation Rilwan might be in at present?
  • While friends and family who are working together to search for Rilwan have received multiple threats via SMS and other mediums, to what extent have the police provided them with assistance and protection? Additionally, to what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between those issuing such threats and the disappearance of Rilwan?

Organisers of the petition are currently holding a variety of events through which they aim to collect the 3000 signatures required before it can be submitted to parliament.

Last weekend (August 29 and 30) friends and family held an event at the Artifiical Beach where signatories of the petition were given free t-shirts printed with the message ‘Today Rilwan has been forcefully disappeared. Will it be me tomorrow?’

Additionally, the group provided a screen projection in the same area on Saturday night displaying video clips of messages from Rilwan’s family and friends.

According to Yameen Rasheed – long time friend of Rilwan who is among the volunteers at the event – the group has already gathered over 1500 signatures, while today (August 31)) volunteers are covering different areas of Malé in order to seek more signatures.

“Friends and family have made tremendous efforts to seek the public’s support in finding Rilwan. This is sadly in contrast with the continued silence from the state,” Yameen stated.

State response

On Thursday, August 28, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed was summoned to parliament’s national security committee.

While the meeting was held behind closed doors, police released a press statement on the same day, revealing some details of the investigation as it has proceeded to date.

According to the statement, police have questioned 198 persons and taken statements from 80, including neighbours of Rilwan in Hulhumalé. It also stated that 293 hours of CCTV footage from over 30 locations are being reviewed and analysed.

Police also claim to have searched all public and industrial areas of the island, as well as an additional 50 places for which they had obtained warrants.

The island of Farukolhufushi – formerly Club Faru resort – near Hulhumalé, vessels moored at Hulhumalé harbour, and a number of other local islands have also been searched, the statement continued.

Police also claim that in relation to the reports of an abduction in Hulhumalé on August 8, officers were doing forensic tests on samples taken from three different cars.

The statement did not say whether any concrete information was gathered from these interviews and other investigative measures.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim speaking at a DhiTV event held on Saturday (August 31) that the government is doing all necessary to find Rilwan, saying “there is hope that we will find him”.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal has also tweeted a similar message, stating “Government has mobilised all necessary resources to find #Rilwan. The search should continue #findmoyameehaa”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also met with friends and family of Rilwan on Saturday, pledging assistance to the cause.

In a press conference held on Sunday, newly-elected MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz stated that the party will work from within the parliament and all other possible avenues to assist the search for the missing journalist.


“Please don’t do this. Help us”: Missing journalist’s mother pleads with authorities

Family and friends of missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla gathered today (August 25) at the People’s Majlis after presenting a letter requesting MPs’ help in finding the Minivan News journalist.

Rilwan’s mother, Aminath Easa, 67-years-old, broke down as she spoke out for the first time publicly about Rilwan’s disappearance:

“Please don’t do this. Help us. Please. I don’t know where he is. I do not know if he is alive. I do not know if he is dead,” she begged the police.

“Please give us some satisfying news. Please, I am pleading with you.”

Sobbing, she told authorities that she raised her five daughters and four sons alone, with Rilwan being the youngest in the family.

Rilwan was last seen on the Malé-Hulhumlé ferry in the early hours of August 8, less than an hour before neighbours reported seeing a man forced into a vehicle outside his home.

Police have released a statement on Sunday, saying that they have widened the search for the missing journalist to include guesthouses, vessels, and nearby islands.

“No matter how poor we were, I raised my children with love. He is a good boy.

I am not trying to protest here. Let me stay here. I have waited at home all of these days patiently. But today, I came here to plead with you to find him.

Hear our plea. Please. I’m calling on all leaders. We are going to all leaders in the Maldives. We are telling them please calm our hearts. For Allah’s sake, please tell us what has happened to our son.”

– Rilwan’s mother, Aminath Easa

The demonstrators, who gathered at  the People’s Majlis around 10:30am this morning, held signs urging the authorities to speed up investigations.

‘Today Rilwan disappeared. Who will disappear next?’ read one of the signs.

‘Majlis, do your job, ensure security for all citizens,’ read another.

The peaceful demonstration was quickly moved away from the Majlis buildings, behind a set of police barricades.

“Today was a clear example of how stupid policies inadvertently compound the psychological distress and trauma experienced by victims of crime,” said Rilwan’s friend, Maryam Adam.

“We were not aggressive or contravening logical laws. The family needs to know they can trust the authorities and that their pleas are being heard. Being able to wait outside Majlis was important to us symbolically,” she added.

Rilwan’s brother, Moosa Rilwan, who attended the demonstration said the group had gathered only to show concern over the progress of investigations.

“We have not seen any progress. It’s been 17 days. We call on the government and Majlis to do everything necessary to find our brother.”

“We, the family, are very concerned. We do not believe [the state] has done enough to find him. We are deeply saddened there has not been adequate efforts through the Majlis,” Moosa told local media.

Another member of the demonstration, Yameen Rasheed, highlighted a lack of urgency from the Majlis regarding this case.

“Majlis committees have previously convened at odd hours over lesser matters. But 17 days after a journalist has been abducted, they are yet to show any such urgency.”

“I plead with you, find out how my son is”

In the letter submitted to Majlis Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Ahmed, family members highlighted that Rilwan, in addition to being a journalist, is also a human rights advocate on social media and a long time blogger.

“Rilwan has received numerous death threats from anonymous sources in connection to his writing and thoughts,” read the letter.

The letter also stressed that Maldives police services have failed to give adequate information at a time of increased insecurity, with young people assaulted, killed, and anonymous murder threats sent to young writers and journalists.

It also noted the resolution submitted to Majlis and the ‘241′ security services committee, a five member select team determined earlier this year.

“I beseech you, as Speaker of the Majlis, prioritise this important case, and for the sake of all Maldivians, question commissioner of police to find out the truth. I plead with you, find out how my son is. Please take all necessary steps through the Majlis,” read the letter.

The thoughts and feelings of Rilwan’s family and friends have also been captured on film as part of a coordinated media campaign designed to raise awareness of his abduction.

The Maldives media community recently released a joint statement on the creation of a new a committee to pressure the state to expedite investigations into Rilwan’s disappearance and end intimidation of the press.

In addition, International groups, including the Office for the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) and Reporters Without Borders have called for a speedy and thorough investigation.

The OCHR has also urged the relevant authorities to address threats and intimidation of the press, while the International Federation of Journalists said the government must determine the circumstances of his disappearance as a “matter of urgency.”

Moreover, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists urged the authorities “to leave no stone unturned” in their efforts to find him.

Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family have offered a reward of MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for information leading to his successful return.


MPs call for expeditious investigation of Minivan News journalist’s disappearance

MPs today expressed concern with the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and called for an expeditious investigation during a debate on a motion without notice submitted by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

Presenting the motion, Imthiyaz said the authorities were neither adequately investigating the disappearance nor sharing findings with the family or the public.

“[Rilwan] disappeared [11 days ago] while journalists were being sent death threats very openly and while [Rilwan] was also facing various forms of intimidation regarding his reporting,” reads the motion.

Imthiyaz referred to the MDP bringing to the government’s attention the abduction and intimidation of alleged advocates of secularism by a vigilante group in early June, noting that no action had been taken to date.

He also referred to the arson attack against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV and near-fatal assault of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

Feared abduction

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”

“Malé has become a jail in broad daylight, full of fear. Now since the threats started being sent, the first person, a journalist, has been abducted. In the future, you will see many MPs being brutally murdered. It is being planned and executed now,” he claimed.

Imthiyaz meanwhile noted that the case has been submitted to three parliamentary oversight committees “to hold the government accountable” regarding the investigation.

Imthiyaz revealed that he received a text message threatening to “behead” him after he submitted the motion yesterday.

He slammed the government for failure to provide security for MPs in the face of death threats and intimidation.

Referring to Minivan News reporting eyewitnesses seeing a man in dark clothes being forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment around 2am on August 8, Imthiyaz questioned police’s failure to investigate the incident after it was reported.

“So there is room for us to suspect that police are aware of this and are deliberately not investigating,” Imthiyaz said.


Imthiyaz’s urgent motion was accepted for debate with bipartisan support after 51 MPs voted in favour. One MP, however, voted against the motion, which opens the floor for a one-hour debate on matters of urgent public importance.

During the debate, opposition MPs criticised police efforts to find Rilwan as sluggish and lacking seriousness, whilst pro-government MPs defended and lauded the police.

While Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs insisted that police were doing everything possible, MDP MPs contended that public safety was no longer assured in the Maldives.

However, all MPs stressed the seriousness of the case and extended sympathy to Rilwan’s family, praying for his safe return and wishing success in the search effort’s of family and friends.

PPM MP Abdulla Rifau noted that police have searched Hulhumalé for three days and advised against “obstructing” the investigation with unwarranted speculation.

He added that the ruling party had put out a press statement expressing concern and calling for a swift investigation.

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem suggested conducting awareness raising programmes and teaching self-defence to children and adolescents.

PPM MP Abdulla Sinan said any hinderance or threat to those who impart information was “unacceptable.”

Rilwan had been expressing his “independent thought,” he continued, which “sometimes conflicted with some of our tenets and bases”.

However, he added, there should be an unfettered environment for free media in a democracy.

PPM MP Ahmed Ameeth – a former DhiTV presenter – said journalists were in a state of fear and warned that Rilwan’s disappearance would adversely affect press freedom.

Liberal versus conservative interpretation of Islam

Referring to media reports claiming former President Mohamed Nasheed spoke against enforcing Islamic Shariah, PPM MP Ahmed Thoriq said neither journalists nor former presidents could “work against the tenets of Islamic Shariah in this country.”

“While journalists against capital punishment are going missing, this is something we should really think about,” the former football star said.

Thoriq criticised Minivan News for reporting updates on the investigation before police revealed information to the public and urged sharing information with the police.

“If [they] want to be the paper that breaks every piece of information the quickest, in truth it is likely that the person they are looking for might not be found,” he said.

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain meanwhile suggested fostering a national debate on the issue of disagreements concerning Islam, arguing that there was “a clash” between a conservative or “literalist” interpretation and a more “liberal” interpretation.

Rilwan’s disappearance was the result of “intolerance” between the two schools of thought, he contended, advising changes to the curriculum to inculcate tolerance.

“We have to teach how to live with people of different opinions. We cannot establish the democratic environment we want without doing so,” he said.


Few clues in search for missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The search for missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla continued without success today, eight days after his last sighting.

“We are very grateful to all those involved in the search,” said Rilwan’s sister Fathimath Shehenaz.

“We are very worried. We want him home safe. We will not give up,” she added.

A team of around 30 friends and family members focused efforts on the more isolated areas of Rilwan’s island of residence Hulhumalé today, after earlier reports had suggested he was aboard the 1:30am ferry from Malé on August 8.

However, as the group continued its own investigations into Rilwan’s last known location, CCTV footage – seen by Minivan News – does not show Rilwan entering the Malé terminal between midnight and 3am.

Additionally, information from a source within Ooredoo traces Rilwan’s last mobile data usage to 2:36am somewhere in the Henveiru area of Malé. A second source has corroborated the time of the signal.

During today’s search, a member of Rilwan’s family has reported receiving an call from an unlisted number warning him to stop the search and go home.

Chief Inspector Abdulla Sathee met with the volunteers today, pledging the police’s cooperation with all those concerned in ensuring Rilwan is found.

While Rilwan’s most recent movements remain a mystery, it is known that he left his motorbike by the carnival grounds some time after leaving his friends at around 12:45am.

One of his final tweets, at 1:03am, suggested sighting local actor Yoosuf Shafeeu (Yooppe) at the ferry terminal, while his final viber message was sent at 1:42am.

Minivan News urges the public contribute any relevant information – in particular CCTV footage from the Henveiru area.

We would also like to express gratitude to local media for their coverage of Rilwan’s case, and request they continue to dedicate attention to his disappearance until he is found.

Rilwan had recently talked to friends and colleagues of taking some time out in the islands, while it is not uncommon for him to periodically drop out of contact – normally for no more than three days.

“Rilwan’s continued absence is a source of great concern for friends and family alike. He is sorely missed at home, in the office, and online,” said Minivan News Managing Editor Daniel Bosley.

“The well documented issues with the intimidation of journalists and human rights activists in the Maldives mean it is vitally important for police to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation in order to allay rampant speculation.”

Rilwan, also known as @moyameehaa by his followers on Twitter, is a softly spoken yet passionate advocate of democracy and free speech. He writes on many subjects, including religion, politics, and the environment.

He had reported some online intimidation as well as instances of being followed from work in recent months, though he had received no threats in days prior to his disappearance.

After studying journalism in India, Rilwan worked for both the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and local newspaper Miadhu before joining Minivan News last December.

He was last seen wearing black trousers and a turquoise shirt. He is 28-years-old, of medium build, around 5ft 10 inches tall, with a short beard.

Police have also confirmed that immigration records show he has not left the country, while there is no evidence to suggest that he returned to his apartment.

Anyone with further information call the Police Hotline 332 2111, or Serious and Organised Crime Department at 9911099. Alternatively, Rilwan’s family can be contacted on 775 4566 or 977 3250.


Journalist Ahmed Rilwan missing for one week

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla remains missing, with seven days having passed since he was last seen.

Rilwan’s last known whereabouts were on the Hulhumalé ferry at around 1:30am on Friday, August 8. A witness has confirmed that, upon arrival, Rilwan did not travel with him on the bus into town.

Police have also confirmed that immigration records show he has not left the country, while there is no evidence to suggest that he returned to his apartment.

Both the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and Home Minister Umar Naseer have expressed concern at his disappearance, while the police’s efforts to locate Rilwan are ongoing.

Police have launched an official appeal for assistance, requesting that anyone with further information call the Police Hotline 332 2111, or Serious and Organised Crime Department at 9911099.

He was last seen wearing black trousers and a turquoise shirt. He is 28-years-old, of medium build, around 5ft 10 inches tall, with a short beard.

As with many journalists, Rilwan has been subject to intimidation as a result of his work although Minivan News again urges caution at a time when there is little information with which to draw firm conclusions.

Family and friends of Rilwan will gather in Hulhumalé from around 8am tomorrow to conduct a coordinated search of the island. Organisers have requested in particular for Hulhumalé residents to report any suspicious activity they may have seen to police.

Anyone wishing to help with tomorrow’s efforts can contact the organisers via the #findmoyameehaa hashtag, on 775 4566 or 977 3250.


Minivan News journalist reported missing

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, 28-years-old, has been reported as missing. He has not been seen since Thursday evening (August 7).

After finishing work on Thursday, Rilwan spent time with friends and family in Malé before leaving for his apartment in Hulhumalé.

He was last seen wearing a turquoise shirt and black trousers, and often carries a rucksack.

Friends, family, and colleagues have been unable to reach him since then and there has been no activity on any of his social media accounts. Rilwan’s family has today filed a missing person report with the police.

While this paper – and Rilwan himself –  have reported on threats made recently against journalists, Minivan News wishes to stress that Rilwan had not received any such messages over the past few weeks.

Minivan News urges caution and restraint in speculation regarding Rilwan’s disappearance before more information is available.

We request anyone who may have any information regarding his whereabouts to contact the police, or Rilwan’s family on 7754566/9773250


Reporters Without Borders labels Maldives’ extremist groups “predators of press freedom”

International press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has included ‘extremist religious groups’ in the Maldives in its ‘Predators of Freedom of Information’ report for 2013.

The report, released to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, identifies ‘predators of press freedom’ around the world, including “presidents, politicians, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers. Powerful, dangerous and violent, these predators consider themselves above the law.”

The 2013 report “accuses leaders and members of fanatical groups in the Maldives” of “intimidating media organisations and bloggers and threatening them with physical harm in order to force them to exercise self-censorship.”

The report also accuses extremist groups in the Maldives of “promoting of repressive legislation”, “debasement of political debate”, contributing to the “censorship of publications and the blocking of access to websites”, and “resorting to violence, and even murder, to silence dissident opinions.”

“Ever since the army mutiny that overthrew President Mohamed Nasheed in the Maldives in 2012, extremist religious groups have tried to use their nuisance power to extend their influence. They have become more aggressive as the [September 2013] presidential election approaches, intimidating news media and bloggers and using freedom of expression to impose a religious agenda while denying this freedom to others,” the report states.

The report identifies the general characteristics of media repression around the world, most notably the impunity those responsible enjoyed.

“Physical attacks on journalists and murders of journalists usually go completely unpunished. This encourages the predators to continue their violations of human rights and freedom of information,” the report stated.

“The 34 predators who were already on the 2012 list continue to trample on freedom of information with complete disdain and to general indifference. The leaders of dictatorships and closed countries enjoy a peaceful existence while media and news providers are silenced or eliminated.”

The report emphasises that failure to confront and prosecute those responsible for violations of press freedom was not due to a lack of laws, but rather selective or non-existent enforcement.

“The persistently high level of impunity is not due to a legal void. There are laws and instruments that protect journalists in connection with their work. Above all, it is up to individual states to protect journalists and other media personnel. This was stressed in Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists, which the United Nations security council adopted in 2006,” the report stated.

“Nonetheless, states often fail to do what they are supposed to do, either because they lack the political will to punish abuses of this kind, or because their judicial system is weak or non-existent, or because it is the authorities themselves who are responsible for the abuses.”

Attacks on journalists

The Maldives plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2013, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.

“The events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders,” RSF observed, in its annual ranking of 179 countries.

“Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5 2012, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago,” RSF noted in its report.

Rasheed, who subsequently fled the country, alleged the attacked was a targeted assassination attempt by Islamic radicals in retaliation for his public calls for religious tolerance. Police have yet to arrest anybody in connection with the murder attempt.

Subsequent to the the release of the press freedom index, Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim Waheed ‘Aswad’ suffered serious head injuries and was left in a critical condition after he was attacked on the street with an iron bar.

Waheed was attacked while he was on his way to see two Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) journalists, who were admitted to hospital after being attacked during opposition-led protests.

Following the attack, Aswad was airlifted to Sri Lanka for emergency surgery. He later recovered and returned to the Maldives.

Police have since forwarded cases against suspects Ahmed Vishan, 22, M. Carinlight Northside, and Hassan Raihan, 19, G. Fehima, for prosecution.

Press freedom day in the Maldives

Meanwhile, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has launched a campaign calling for laws protecting journalists, “such as salaries, work hours and insurance for journalists,” according to MJA President and Editor of Sun Online, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir.

The MJA showed a T-shirt promoting the ‘Working Journalists Act’, released as part of the campaign during a ceremony in the DhiTV studio.

According to Sun Online, MJA Secretary General Mundoo Adam Haleem “said that while the government has established an organisation to work for the benefit of media operators, people should ascertain for themselves who actually works for the benefit of media operators.”

Local media also reported on an acknowledgement of World Press Freedom Day during Friday’s sermon delivered all over the Maldives, encouraging people to draw a distinction between “press freedom” and “press fairness”.

An event organised by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to mark the signing of a five point pledge to uphold media freedom was meanwhile cancelled due to inclement weather.


Criminal Court extends detention of suspect arrested for attack on Raajje TV journalist

The Criminal Court has extended the detention period of the suspect arrested in connection with the attack on Raajje TV senior journalist Ibrahim Waheed ‘Aswad’.

Police have not officially identified the suspect, however local media reported that the suspect was 21 year-old Ahmed Vishan.

The suspect was arrested on Tuesday while he was at his house and was summoned before the court, which extended his detention by 15 days.

The arrest was initially reported by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, who informed the public in a tweet that a person had been arrested in what he described as a “murder attempt”.

Waheed, a senior reporter for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned television station, was attacked with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the artificial beach area early on Saturday morning.

The attack left him unconscious, and he was transferred to a hospital in Sri Lanka for treatment. Doctors have since said his condition is stable, and that he is recovering.

Maldivian journalists took to the streets of Male’ to protests against the recent attacks, joining international organisations who have also condemned the violence.

In July 2012, July 2012, a group of alleged Islamic radicals slashed the throat of blogger Hilath Rasheed. Rasheed, who had been campaigning for religious tolerance, narrowly survived and has since fled the country.

However, no arrests were made in connection to the case.


Prominent blogger Hilath Rasheed in critical condition after stabbing

Prominent Maldivian blogger and journalist Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed is in a critical condition after he was stabbed in the neck near his house in Male’ on Monday evening.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that Rasheed was stabbed around 8:15pm and was undergoing emergency treatment in ADK hospital.

No arrests have been made, “however there is CCTV in the area and we are trying to get something on it,” Haneef stated.

Police had cordoned off the area around the blood-stained pavement at time of press. There was on Monday evening no indication as to the motivation of the attack.

An informed source at ADK hospital said Rasheed was bleeding but conscious when he was brought to the hospital, and that he was expected to remain in surgery until 2:30am.

“They slit his throat clean through the trachea, and missed a vital artery by millimetres,” the source said, around 11:30pm, giving Rasheed a “five percent chance …  It doesn’t look good.”

Early on Tuesday morning the source reported that Rasheed’s condition had stabilised: “He’ll be in intensive care for a couple of days. He’s breathing through a tube now.”

Sub-Inspector Haneef said a second individual was stabbed in the back at 11:00pm near Male’s garbage dump and had been taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in a critical condition. Local media reported that the victim was believed to be a Bangladeshi national.

Second attack

Rasheed, a once outspoken blogger against extremism and former editor of newspaper Haveeru, was previously attacked by a group of men on December 10, 2011 – Human Rights Day – while attending a protest calling for religious tolerance.

A group of men attacked the protesters with stones, and Rasheed was taken to IGMH with a fractured skull.

He was subsequently arrested by police for questioning over his involvement in the protest gathering, and jailed for over three weeks.

Amnesty International declared him a ‘prisoner of conscience’, and said it was “dismayed that instead of defending Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed, who has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of the expression, the government of Maldives has detained him. Moreover, the government has taken no action to bring to justice those who attacked the ‘silent’ demonstrators, even though there is credible photographic evidence of the attack.”

The Foreign Ministry subsequently called for an investigation “by relevant authorities” into the attack on the protest.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned both the December 10 attack on Rasheed and his arrest, noting that he was not only one of the country’s leading free speech advocates, but one of the few Maldivians bloggers to write under his own name.

“The Maldivian constitution bans the promotion of any religion other than Islam but guarantees freedom of assembly and expression as long as it does not contravene Islam. Rasheed professes to be an adherent of Sufism, which emphasises the inner, spiritual dimension of Islam,” RSF stated at the time.

Censored blogger

Rasheed’s popular and controversial blog,, was blocked in November 2011 by the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material, CAM confirmed at the time.

Hilath claimed he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith.

“I call upon all concerned to amend the clause in the constitution which requires all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslims only,” his statement read. “‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,’ and ‘There is no compulsion in religion’,” he said, quoting Qur’an 109:6 and 2:256.

Hilath claimed at the time that the blocking of his website had a political edge: “If Sunni Muslims are the conservatives, then the Sufi Muslims are the liberals,” he told Minivan News. “I think this is a conservative attack on the site. They think if you’re not a Sunni, you’re an unbeliever.”

Following the blocking of his blog and his attack in December, Rasheed became less outspoken on the subject of religion and withdrew from the public spotlight.

On May 12 he tweeted his intention to stop blogging altogether, and stated that he had “repented and am now a Muslim. But a very tolerant one at that.”