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.

Related to this story

We don’t wish anyone else to go through same pain: Rilwan’s family

No apparent progress in police search for Rilwan, family plans protest for Friday

MDN investigation implicates radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance

“Not all crimes in the world are solvable”: Home minister says on Rilwan’s disappearance


One hundred days of sorrow: Missing Moyameehaa

This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee.com. Republished with permission

“You run back and forth listening for unusual events,
peering into the faces of travelers.
“Why are you looking at me like a madman?”
I have lost a friend. Please forgive me.” – Rumi

Sunday will be the 100th day since Ahmed Rizwan (Rilwan) Abdulla, @moyameehaa, was abducted. Time has dragged, weighted down by the burden of not knowing. Between then and now much, yet nothing, has happened. The posters brightening a thousand walls with Rilwan’s smile have faded with the sun and dissolved with the rain. Five thousand men and women put pen to paper, ‘Good Sir, kind Madam, please find Rilwan,’ they begged. At least as many thousand Tweets have echoed round the world: ‘#Findmoyameehaa, #Findoyameehaa.’ Hundreds of friends and supporters have marched on Male’s streets with the question: ‘Where is Rilwan?’ Scores have met many miles away in Melbourne and in New York, asking the same question.

Rilwan’s mother has said, to any ears that would listen, ‘I am poor, but my love makes Rilwan a priceless treasure. Please find him for me.’ Hundreds have felt her tears roll down their faces. ‘He is alive,’ Rilwan’s father has insisted. His mind has been far from the assorted fruits and vegetables he sells at the local market. ‘How do you know?’ ask customers who have stopped to listen. Without batting an eyelid he has said, ‘I asked a clairvoyant.’

It may seem odd, approaching a clairvoyant to look for a son abducted in this technologically advanced twenty first century. But when the natural world makes no sense, the supernatural often appears the only consolation. In its investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance, Maldives Police Service (MPS) has been more than negligent; it has been willfully perverse. In hundred days the MPS has given almost as many excuses for making zero progress in the search for Rilwan: nobody was abducted; it was a woman who was abducted; it was not an abduction, it was a rape; Rilwan ‘disappeared himself’; Rilwan is an apostate, not worth looking for; Rilwan is playing an elaborate joke; Rilwan is writing his own missing persons reports; Rilwan was abducted by gangs, there are no gangs in the Maldives; we have arrested someone, we have let him go; Rilwan was abducted by violent extremists, there are no violent extremists in the Maldives; Rilwan is not missing, it is all a political drama; no comment; Rilwan who?

Rilwan the journalist who examined the many maladies of Maldives. Rilwan the teenage blogger who gave a damn about the poor and the wronged. Rilwan the ex-radical who understood the extremist mindset better than all official strategists. Rilwan the story-teller whose #FerryTales shortened the distance between Male’ and Hulhumale’ more than any bridge can. Rilwan the well-mannered young man who respected the elderly. Rilwan the friend who listened. Rilwan the writer who inspired. Rilwan the aspiring poet who read Rumi and Neruda. Rilwan the thinker who sought spiritual succor in meditation, Nusrat Fatah Khan and the Quran. Rilwan the friend who laughed; the brother who baked; the uncle who played; the son who loved. Rilwan the Maldivian who cared.

The reasons why Rilwan’s friends, family and supporters want him found are the very reason the authorities want him to remain missing. What Rilwan abhorred in our society, our rulers cheer loudly.

Rilwan wanted a society free of corruption; our leaders revel in it. He wanted to see Jihadist ideologies become less attractive to young Maldivians; our religious clerics encourage it while the government turns a blind eye. He wanted gang violence to have less power over society; senior government officials outsource authority to favoured gang members. Rilwan wanted equal justice for all; our rulers want judgement and punishment to be arbitrary, wielded by them how and when they please. He wanted a society where citizens shared its wealth more equally; our rulers want all wealth to be their own.

Rilwan wanted us all to think more deeply about how to live a more meaningful, spiritual and equal existence; it is the antithesis of all that our rulers desire. For the moment we begin to think more deeply is the moment we begin to regret voting them in. It would be the beginning of our demand for change, the precursor to saying: ‘Enough. I will not let you rule me anymore.’

If the past 100 days has made anything clear, it is that this government will do all it can to stop Rilwan from being found. It is in its interests to do so. The past 100 days has also made something else very clear: we must do all we can to find out what happened to Rilwan. It is in our interests to do so. Our pursuit of a more just, equal and democratic society, as dreamed of by Rilwan, cannot begin if we forget Rilwan’s abduction and the government’s role in it, either by taking him or covering it up.

Let’s not stop our pressure on the authorities to #FindMoyameehaa. We owe it to Rilwan, and to our future.


“Not all crimes in the world are solvable”: Home minister says on Rilwan’s disappearance

Comparing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance with the killing of American President John F. Kennedy, Home Minister Umar Naseer today said, “not all crimes in the world are solvable.”

“Americans still have not solved the case of who shot and killed President John F. Kennedy,” speaking at a press conference this evening.

“I’m talking about the shooting and killing of an American president. It has been more than 50 years since American citizens have been asking, who killed Kennedy?”

According to five different investigations, former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

“Not every crime is solvable. And when a crime remains unsolved, it does not mean police were negligent. We are doing all we can in Rilwan’s case. We will not leave any stone unturned.”

Today marks the 90th day since Rilwan disappeared. Eyewitness accounts suggest Rilwan was abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment at 2am on August 8. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Despite acknowledging involvement of criminal gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance, Naseer today said it is unclear if Rilwan’s disappearance constitutes a crime. The government can only know if he had voluntarily left, disappeared or been abducted once he is found, he said.

“America is a much bigger country than ours. Statistics show over 600 people went missing this year. They have better resources, a bigger budget, but they are unable to find [the missing people]. It is not so easy to find a missing person. Not every crime can be solved,” he continued.

“We can only know if it’s a crime when it is solved. God willing, Rilwan will be found. When he is found, we will know if he went missing, or whether it’s a voluntary disappearance, an enforced disappearance or an abduction,” Naseer added.

Naseer claimed the Maldives Police Service is continuing investigations, and is analysing 22,000 phone records and 4,000 hours of CCTV footage.

The opposition has wrongfully termed Rilwan’s case a “disappearance,” Naseer continued claiming “it is too early to call it a [disappearance].”

Rilwan’s family last week accused the police of negligence and filed a complaint with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

“If the abduction had been investigated immediately at the right time, the police would have been able to find the victim and clarify if it is our brother or not,” Rilwan’s sister Mariyam Fazna told the press last week.

Despite eyewitnesses having reported the abduction at knifepoint at 2am on August 8, police only took eyewitnesss statements on August 14, the family said. The police had also failed to track down and search the car used in the abduction.

The police only searched Rilwan’s apartment 29 hours after the abduction was reported and searched his office 11 days afterwards. The police also failed to make a public announcement on Rilwan’s disappearance – despite a request by the family – and did not inform the public on how to act if they had any information related to the case, the family explained further.

Four men have been arrested over Rilwan’s disappearance, but only one man remains in custody at present. The police have revealed few details on the case.

The People’s Majlis last week threw out a 5055 signature petition urging MPs to pressure police for a through and speedy investigation. The parliament secretariat later admitted the rejection was “a mistake,” according to MP Imthiyaz Fahmy who sponsored the petition.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network released a report in September implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Discounting theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, the investigation – conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – concludes the disappearance is likely to have been an abduction.

The report confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang.

The NGO on October 23 accused the police of negligence in investigating the disappearance for their failure to inform the public on progress and failure to confirm if the abduction reported on the night Rilwan went missing was related to his disappearance.


Majlis throws out 5055 signature petition on Rilwan’s disappearance

The People’s Majlis on Tuesday threw out a 5055 signature petition which urged the parliament’s National Security Committee to pressure the Maldives Police Services to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.

In a letter to MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, who sponsored the petition, Majlis Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed said the petition had failed to fulfill requirements outlined in the Majlis standing orders.

Condemning the move, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP said Secretary General Mohamed had later admitted the rejection of the petition was “a mistake” and confirmed it had been submitted according to all procedures.

“We are extremely concerned. The MDP submitted the case to various subcommittees. Ruling party MPs killed the case in every single committee, and have now killed the 5055 signature petition submitted by Rilwan’s family,” Fahmy MP said.

“I don’t know whether they will be looking at it again. But they [Majlis] did admit that what they did was wrong when they threw out the petition. They have completely ignored the law when they issued a letter to me to saying the petition does not meet requirements.”

The Majlis secretariat had said the sponsoring MP had not signed all pages of the petition as Article 200 of Majlis regulations. However, Fahmy pointed out his signature was in fact present on all pages.

Article 199 the Majlis standing orders state a petition can only be submitted on a bill submitted to Majlis, an issue taken up in Majlis, or an issue of public concern.

Fahmy’s urgent motion on Rilwan’s disappearance on August 19 was accepted with bipartisan support.

“When I countered all of their arguments, they at last said it was a mistake. All the required signatures were there. Then, not knowing what to say, they said we will try to proceed. What kind of answer is this?” the Maafannu North MP said.

“The PPM holds a majority in Majlis. Their refusal to look into the issue via Majlis sub committees and rejection of the petition indicates the government’s stand on this issue.”

Despite public outcry, the PPM has largely remained indifferent. Today is the 81st day since the reporter disappeared.

The petition, submitted on September 4, asked MPs to investigate if the police had been negligent in investigating Rilwan’s disappearance and asked MPs to find out if an abduction reported on August 8 in front of Rilwan’s apartment building was connected to his disappearance.

Four men have been arrested over the case, but only one man remains in custody at present. The police have only revealed few details on the investigation.

Home Minister Umar Naseer said he believed Rilwan is alive and promised to return him safe to his family. He has also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network released a report in September implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Discounting theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, the investigation – conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – concludes the disappearance is likely to have been an abduction.

The report confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang.

The NGO on October 23 accused the police of negligence in investigating the disappearance for their failure to inform the public on progress and failure to confirm if the abduction reported on the night Rilwan went missing was related to his disappearance.


Home minister acknowledges gang involvement in Rilwan case, blames opposition for slow progress

The home minister has acknowledged gang involvement in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, while accusing politicians of obstructing the investigation.

“We already knew that there is a gang connection to Rilwan’s case. However, in a modern investigation, one doesn’t immediately arrest suspects. We leave them free and follow them and gather information,” he explained during an interview on state television yesterday.

“The biggest cause of obstruction to this investigation is the MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party],” Naseer said, accusing the opposition party of being behind a private investigator’s report released by local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN).

Rilwan was last seen on CCTV footage at the Hulhumalé Ferry Terminal in the early hours of August 8. Friends and family have alleged his disappearance to have been an abduction, based on evidence in CCTV footage and eye witness accounts.

The MDN report, produced by UK based private investigators Athena Intelligence and Security, implicated gangs – possibly motivated by religious extremism – in the disappearance 73 days ago.

“The release of the report forced us to change our investigation technique. We had to hurry the arrests, which led to early release of suspects. It is the biggest hindrance to the investigation so far,” said Naseer.

Four individuals were arrested following the report’s release, though three were later released.

“It has an extreme negative effect on an investigation when people who are not aware of the details of an investigation release reports and offer speculations based purely on hearsay with the intent of gaining some political advantage.”

The minister said that the report had named some suspects who are members of notorious gangs that the police had also already identified. MDN maintains that the report was released with the objective of aiding the police in the investigation.

Police have yet to confirm the nature of their investigations, stating that they have gathered no “concrete evidence” linking Rilwan with a reported abduction outside his apartment the same night.

Naseer concluded his remarks on Rilwan by stating that he believes the 28-year-old remains alive as the abductors have so far left no indication that they have taken his life.

Family concern dismissed

Rilwan’s family has continuously expressed concern regarding the lack of information received from the police regarding the investigation’s progress.

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed went on the offensive last week, telling local news outlet Vaguthu that the family and certain media organisations were partially responsible for the lack of success in the investigation.

Naseer yesterday dismissed the family’s concerns, saying that police were giving regular updates to the family, and that he had personally met with the family at least four times to share information.

“I personally meet with the investigation team once a week and get an update on progress. I also give them advice on how to proceed with the case,” Naseer said, adding that the government sees the disappearance of Rilwan as a high priority.

President Abdulla Yameen has yet to comment publicly on the case, beyond his dismissal of questions regarding the case in August, although the foreign ministry has expressed concern.

Naseer went on to say that, despite spending state resources, funds, and time on the case, the police have so far been unable to get any answers in the case.

“I must say that sometimes things just happen this way, we just don’t get ahead. For example, consider the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which disappeared with over 200 passengers. The whole world is looking for it, but no one has a clue as to where it may be. And then we are talking about one man, Rilwan,” he said.

“Things and people that go missing are sometimes just not found easily. We can use all the available resources in a country and even then, there is only so much we can achieve. However, in this case, we have not given up and will continue trying,” Naseer continued.

No police negligence, no state involvement

Umar also dismissed allegations of police negligence involved in the case.

When questioned about police actions following the reported abduction near Rilwan’s residence on the night of his disappearance, Umar said people were speculating that it is police negligence “due to the lack of information they have”.

He affirmed that police had promptly investigated the matter, even without knowing at the time whether it was related to Rilwan’s disappearance.

Naseer also dismissed allegations of state involvement in Rilwan’s disappearance.

“This is MDP’s way of comparing this case with that of Ablo Ghazi [Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed]”, he alleged.

“No one has forced Rilwan’s disappearance. Ablo Ghazi was abducted by the MDP government with the aid of the MNDF. Rilwan is someone who disappeared and we are trying to find,” he explained.

“We are trying to find Rilwan. We were only made aware of this case after Rilwan disappeared. The government has no involvement in this disappearance. This is, in fact, the first disappearance of its kind that has occurred in the country.”

“We are considering the disappearance of Rilwan as a criminal act and are investigating it to the best of our abilities,” he assured the public.


Rilwan’s family remain concerned at investigation progress as third suspect released

The family of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan have again expressed concern regarding the police’s investigation after a third suspect was released from detention on Friday (September 10).

The Maldives Police Service has confirmed that a 25-year-old man held in connection with the disappearance was released after being taken to the Criminal Court in an attempt to extend his detention for the third time.

Rilwan, who has been missing for 65 days, is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside of his Hulhumalé apartment at around 2am on August 8.

Rilwan’s brother Moosa Rilwan told Minivan News today that the family is very concerned police did not release enough information about the arrests, expressing concern at shortcomings in the investigation.

The 25-year-old is the third suspect to be released after four men were arrested on September 30 in relation to Rilwan’s disappearance. A single suspect remains in custody.

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) had applauded the four arrests made by MPS, noting the development as a clear sign of progress in the investigation.

The police are yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry into the disappearance and have previously stated that there was no concrete evidence linking Rilwan and the reported abduction in front of his apartment.

MDN released an investigation report three weeks ago identifying the possible scenarios related to the disappearance.

The investigation conducted by Glasgow based Athena Security implicated abduction by radicalised gangs motivated by religious extremism as the most likely explanation for the disappearance.

The report said that Rilwan had “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his outspoken criticism of religious extremism and fundamentalism.

It also noted that there had been an influx of extremist ideologies in three of the major gangs operating in the capital Malé, stating that gang leaders were exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison.

One of the gang members named in the report was subsequently caught on tape removing a CCTV camera from the Minivan News office, for which he was arrested before being released the next day with demands from the Criminal Court that he cooperate with the police investigation.

A Minivan News journalist received death threats shortly after the attack on Minivan’s office, which also saw a machete lodged in the door.

The attack was followed by dozens of death threats to journalists, senior members, and parliamentary members of the opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) from unlisted numbers.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed – who also received threats during a visit to the UK this month – alleged that the death threats against journalists and MPs were sent using an online texting website.

Nasheed has also been critical of the police’s response, suggesting they were not taking enough action to investigate the growing number of threats.


Three arrested in connection with Rilwan’s disappearance

The Maldives Police Services today confirmed three men have been arrested in relation to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Today marks the 51st day since Rilwan went missing. He is believed to have been abducted at knife point from outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé at 2am on August 8.

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has welcomed “progress in police investigation”, offering its support and calling upon the public to lend any assistance required to police.

The Criminal Court today extended the detention of two 22-year-old men for five days and a 24-year-old man for seven days, reported police who declined to reveal further details.

“The Criminal Court’s extension of their detention signifies a progress in the investigation,” said MDN.

The Maldives Police Service has yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry being followed, noting on September 16 that no “concrete evidence” could be found between Rilwan and a reported abduction outside his apartment shortly after his last sighting.

MDN last week released a report implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

The investigative report by Glasgow based Athena Security confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang. One of the suspects is identified as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.

Minivan News understands Shiran is currently in police custody for unrelated charges.

Citing a series of gang attacks against perceived secularists in June, the report said that gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction was a “strong possibility”.

The report noted increased radical activity among members of three main gangs in Malé – Bosnia, Kuda Henveiru, and Buru – and claimed members had participated in attacks against individuals they deem “un-Islamic”.

Rilwan had “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his advocacy against religious extremists, the report said.

One man named in the report, vandalised Minivan News’ security cameras on Thursday and two others buried a machete in the building’s main door.

Minivan News journalists received death threats shortly afterwards warning them, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”

The man seen tearing down the camera was arrested that same night, before being released by the Criminal Court on Friday on conditions that he cooperate with the police investigation, that he not leave Malé without informing police, and that he not cause any further disturbances.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) office was set on fire in the early hours of the morning following the attack on Minivan News, and the door of former MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s residence was set ablaze.

The arson attack followed vandalism of the main opposition party’s office for two consecutive nights and numerous death threats sent from unlisted numbers to MDP MPs, senior members, and dozens of journalists.

“This is a war between the laadheenee [secular or irreligious] MDP mob and religious people. We advise the media not to come in the middle of this. We won’t hesitate to kill you,” read the threat to journalists.

The text message was sent to journalists from opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV, Vaguthu.mv and state broadcaster Television Maldives as well as other news outlets.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US embassy in Colombo, and international press freedom organisations have subsequently issued statements condemning the attack on the Minivan News office.


MDN investigation implicates radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance

A private investigation commissioned by Maldives Democracy Network has implicated gangs – possibly motivated by religious extremism – in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan 45 days ago.

Discounting theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, the investigation – conducted by Glasgow-based Athena Intelligence and Security – concludes the disappearance is likely to have been an abduction.

The report confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang. One of the suspects is identified as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.

Rilwan was previously an openly conservative Islamist and a well-regarded member of a group known as ‘Dot,’ but is now a known advocate of religious tolerance and an open critic of government policy and radical Islam, the report stated.

In July, Rilwan told his friends he was being followed regularly by “people who looked like Islamists,” and “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his online activity.

Citing a series of gang attacks against perceived secularists in June, the report said gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a “strong possibility”.

The report noted increased radical activity among members of three main gangs in Malé – Bosnia, Kuda Henveiru, and Buru – and claimed gang members have participated in attacks against individuals they deem “un-Islamic”.

Government ministers are said to pay gangs to intimidate dissidents, the report said, though it discounted allegations that Rilwan may have been targeted due to his alleged investigation into a corruption case involving Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The report called on the police to further investigate the activities of extremist groups, gangs, and politicians in Rilwan’s disappearance.

The Maldives Police Service has yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry being followed, last week noting that no “concrete evidence” could be found between Rilwan and a reported abduction outside his apartment shortly after his last sighting.

Islamist threats

According to the report, an online Jihadi group called Bilad Al- Sham made a clear and unambiguous threat to Rilwan’s life shortly before his disappearance in which they stated “his days were short.”

The group’s founder Yameen Naeem has reportedly been killed while fighting in the Syrian civil war this month.

In the week prior to Rilwan’s disappearance, the group on its Facebook site said they “had taken a break during Ramadan” but has returned to their campaign against those perceived as mocking Islam.

A friend of Rilwan’s told the investigators he had received information on August 4 that the ‘Dot’ group was targeting individuals advocating against religious extremists, and had a list of 400 people who “need to go”.

According to Rilwan’s friend interviewed as part of Athena’s investigation, Bilad Al- Sham “have the resources, funding, boats and the ability and intent to abduct people … even from their homes,” said the report.


CCTV footage shows evidence that two Kuda Henveiru gang members undertook “possible hostile surveillance” of Rilwan at the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry terminal.

The first suspect, Shiran, arrived at the ferry terminal minutes before Rilwan’s arrival and proceeded to look around inside the waiting area. He then headed back outside.

Meanwhile, a second unnamed suspect was waiting outside on Shiran’s red motorbike. However the two “deliberately disassociate from each other whilst at the terminal and do not demonstrate that they have an existing relationship,” the report said.

Cell phone data from Shiran’s phone shows a flurry a SMS activity between his phone and a second handset, registered to a man called Ahmed Husham.

“It is entirely possible that their task was to provide advance notification of Rilwan’s arrival at the terminal and confirmation of his boarding the ferry. It is possible that the flurry of communication was an effort to coordinate activity with any reception team in Hulhumalé.”

Police have since withheld Shiran’s passport, the report said.


The investigation noted Rilwan would have arrived in Hulhumalé at 1:30am and suggested he did not board the local bus, but travelled on foot to his apartment.

At around 2am, witnesses living near Rilwan’s apartment building reported seeing two unidentified males struggling with each other and one male being forced into a red car, the report said

The witnesses were unable to identify either of the men, as it was fully dark. As both males entered the car, it sped off immediately, indicating at least a further suspect as a driver.

A bayonet knife was recovered at the scene, but police claimed it contains no evidence, suggesting the knife’s presence was circumstantial and probably on the ground before the abduction, the report said

There are two red cars in Hulhumalé, one owned by Ibrahim Firaq – a member of the Jumhooree Party, and another owned by Arliph Rauf – a member of a notorious crime family suspected of involvement in the 2012 murder of MP Afrasheem Ali.

Police are investigating Rauf’s car for having been illegally imported to Hulhumalé on August 4, and returned to Malé sometime between  13 – 15 August. Police sources say Rauf had sold the car, the report said.

Living on Hulhumalé and having a relatively predictable routine would have made Rilwan an easy target, the report noted.

Radicalisation of gangs

The report suggested gang leaders had been exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison, saying that they openly supported the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and recruited Jihadists for the war in Syria and Iraq.

Gang members have reportedly been involved in a series of violent attacks against those preaching religious tolerance, and justify their attacks by labeling such individuals as un-Islamic.

Gang members “see themselves as the self-appointed guardians of religious morality and take responsibility for the education and guidance of those who openly undermine Islamic principles and teachings.”

They had abducted a number of individuals in connection to a Facebook group called Colorless in June and questioned them on their beliefs. One of the abductees is now in self imposed exile, the report said.


Rilwan was taking medication for clinical depression and gastritis, but “there is no indication that he had suicidal thoughts or that he had previously committed self-harm.”

On the evening prior to his disappearance, he spent time with his sister and his friends in Malé, where he was playing a GPS based located game called Ingress and watched a Baibala tournament (Maldivian rugby).

No body or suicide note has been found. Furthermore, none of the people who saw him last reported a change in normal demeanor or felt in any way that he was in some way saying farewell or putting his affairs in order which might indicate an intent to commit suicide.

Voluntary disappearance

Rilwan had voiced a wish to “drop out” and visit islands where he could study cultural poetry, the report noted. But there is no record of him departing the Maldives despite his passport not being found during a search of his apartment.

No clothes or personal effects were removed from his apartment that might indicate relocation, the report said. Further, Rilwan has to date failed to cash a paycheck he received hours before his disappearance.

“The lack of data activity and that he had not cashed his cheque or prepared funds, and that he did not take personal effects from his apartment, or if he travelled, he did so during silent hours, indicate that it is extremely unlikely that he willingly disappeared himself.”

The report stated that it was not uncommon for Rilwan to “go offline” for days at a time and family members and colleagues did not consider it unusual when he failed to show up for a few days.

“It was only five days after the abduction before he was missed enough and attempts to contact him had failed to sufficiently raise the alarm,” the report stated.


Nasheed urges President Yameen to take charge of Rilwan investigation

Expressing concern over progress in police’s search for missing Minivan News journalist, former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on President Abdulla Yameen to take charge of the investigation.

Evidence suggests Ahmed Rilwan was abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment in Hulhumalé on the early morning of August 8. Today is the 41st day since Rilwan disappeared.

“I call on President Abdulla Yameen to have the case of Rilwan’s disappearance investigated under his direct oversight,” Nasheed told the media after a visit to Rilwan’s family on Wednesday.

“Neither Rilwan’s family, nor we, can accept that the government is conducting a thorough investigation into this matter,” the opposition leader said.

“I believe that the Maldives Police and MNDF have sufficient capability to conduct an investigation like this. They have the experience, and the skill support. And yet, as I see it, they are not conducting an acceptable level of investigation in this case.”

Rilwan’s disappearance has caused great distress to his family, Nasheed said.

“Over 40 days has passed since Rilwan was last seen, and there are certain rituals that we must complete even in the religious regard as we are Muslims. Rilwan’s mother is deeply concerned about not getting the chance to do that,” he said.

Increase in violent crime

Rilwan’s disappearance is the most crucial problem facing the Maldives now, he said and called on civil society organisations, political parties, media outlets, the  government, the justice sector and the whole state to put in a more concerted effort to find Rilwan.

“Abductions are on its way to becoming commonplace. Knife attacks are increasing day after day. Dr Afrasheem was murdered. Before that, Hilath Rasheed was attacked. We do not know the truth behind these and many other such attacks,” Nasheed continued.

Police failure to solve multiple cases of violent crime and murder leads to the perception that politicians are involved in violent crimes, Nasheed said.

“As I see it, the Maldives is getting a bad name in the international community due to such crimes, and it will affect the tourism sector in future. If we don’t take proper action immediately, our situation will drastically deteriorate in the coming days,” he said.

“None of us will cease our efforts to find Rilwan. And I personally will do all possible to assist their efforts,” he said.

Rilwan’s brother Moosa Rilwan said Nasheed’s visit had given the family additional strength.

“During his visit, President Nasheed spent a lot of time listening to the concerns that our parents have. His concerned has given us more strength. We are now even more determined to keep working until we get answers,” he told Minivan News.

Suvaalu March

Rilwan’s family and friends have announced plans to hold a “Suvaalu March” (Question March) on Friday, September 19, to call attention to police failure to answer key questions regarding Rilwan’s disappearance.

“We call on everyone to join us in our efforts. It is important for every individual in our society to stand up against the violence and injustice now rampant in our community,” Moosa Rilwan said.

Atleast 31 people have been killed in the Maldives since 2007. Three were killed in August alone.

Rilwan’s friend and member of the march organizing team, Yameen Rasheed, said the aim of the walk was to hold the police accountable over failures in the investigation.

“As citizens sharing this same community, we have to hold the state accountable,” Yameen said.

While the march focuses on shortcomings in the investigation to find Rilwan, it will also raise concern over increase in violent crimes in the Maldives and police’s failure to provide security for citizens, he added.