MDP warns of a census boycott if authorities fail to find missing journalist

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it will consider a boycott of the overdue national census if authorities fail to find missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

Newly elected Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the motion would require endorsement by the party’s National Council.

Rilwan – believed to have been abducted – has now been missing for 34 days. The Maldives Police Services has been criticised for its failure to reveal information regarding the investigation.

“President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been negligent towards a Maldivian citizen. We will stand up against that negligence. So we [will ask the National Council] to endorse a boycott of a census held without Rilwan,” Shifaz told the press at a briefing this morning.

“I do want to note the importance of a census. But when we do not know what happens to Maldivians, when citizens have been disappeared, I do not believe we should proceed with a census.”

The census – scheduled to take place between September 20 and 27 – will be the first time such national data has been collected since 2006.

Locals from the island of Vilufushi in Thaa Atoll have also announced that they will be boycotting the census, due to the failure to provide permanent residents for those left homeless after the 2004 tsunami.

Department of National Planning’s Assistant Director Fathimath Riyaza has appealed to all parties to support the census, and called on the public to refrain from connecting the census to Rilwan’s disappearance.

“We, too, are extremely concerned and saddened by the journalist’s disappearance. However, it is not our job to look for and find any particular person. I call on the people to refrain from connecting these two things and to give us information about themselves.”


MDP chairperson Ali Waheed said party members had suggested the boycott and said some felt Rilwan’s disappearance was an act of terrorism by the state.

The MDP has remained quiet on the matter following a request by Rilwan’s family not to politicise the issue, but “MDP cannot remain quiet, he is a citizen just like us,” Waheed said.

Criticising President Yameen’s silence on the disappearance, Waheed said the Maldives had “gone off the tracks” since the new government assumed power.

“People are afraid. People are disappearing, and the government does not care. The truth is the government is failing. It’s been a month since a journalist has gone missing, and it does not seem to be a big deal to the government. The truth is we have regressed 30 years,” he said.

Since Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the parliament, the president cannot throw off responsibility for the state of the nation, he added.

The government’s actions intimidate the press, he said and criticised the government for its failure to provide security for MPs who have also received death threats.

The MDP will embark on a series of actions to hold the government accountable, starting with a rally at the Alimas Carnival in Malé on Thursday, activating internal party committees on government accountability and preparations for upcoming local council by-elections.

The party has also set up a desk to improve relationship between the MDP leadership and councilors, he said.


Arguing there is room to believe Rilwan has been disappeared, Waheed also appealed to the government to clarify the nature of Rilwan’s disappearance.

“The government’s actions are unlike any other in a case of disappearance. Comments made by senior government officials in press conferences suggest he has been abducted. Instead of commenting directly on the matter, every one is suggested he will be found alive,” he said.

Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim last week said he had hope Rilwan would be found safe and sound.

The PPM dominated parliamentary committee on independent institutions oversight in August rejected a motion to summon and question the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and Police Integrity Commission (PIC) on Rilwan’s disappearance.

MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the party would table the same request once again.

Rilwan’s family has previously submitted a petition to the Majlis with 5000 signatures calling on MPs to find answers to questions as yet unanswered by police. Local NGO Maldives Democracy Network has also released an open letter raising a number of issues regarding the cases’s progress.


IFJ and MJA again urge government to expedite Rilwan case

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) released a further press statement expressing concerns over “the slow progress made in the search of journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla”.

“Today marks one month since Rilwan was last seen yet the IFJ remains critical of the investigation and the release of information by the authorities,” the statement dated September 8 reads.

“The huge public response to Rilwan’s disappearance shows the strong desire for justice and answers, not only by his journalistic colleagues but the public at large,” the statement quotes IFJ acting director Jane Worthington as saying.

Rilwan was last spotted on CCTV footage at the Hulhumalé Ferry Terminal. Eye witnesses report seeing a man fitting Rilwan’s description being forced into a vehicle at knife point in front of his residence at approximately the time Rilwan would have reached his residence.

The IFJ states that evidence found by Minivan News – later corroborated by other media outlets – suggests Rilwan was abducted, while the authorities have so far not provided any information which links the reported abduction in Hulhumalé to Rilwan’s disappearance.

“One month on, the demand for answers remains strong and if the figures the police provide are correct, there is vital information that is not being shared with the media that might find the culprits behind his disappearance,” said the statement.

The IFJ previously released a statement last month calling upon authorities to undertake a full investigation with the “utmost seriousness, with all findings released to the public.”

“The disappearance of journalists is a serious matter and full support must be provided to the family,” read the August statement.

Rilwan’s family have resorted to lobbying the People’s Majlis in order to gain information about the investigation, noting last week that police updates on the investigation did not included evidence on progress.

The most recent police statement noted that they had questioned 318 individuals, interrogated 111, searched 139 locations in Hulhumalé and conducted dives to search 267,197.5 square meters of ocean.

“These are just statistics,” responded Rilwan’s brother, Moosa at the time. “We want to find him. We want the police to tell us if they have any leads, if there is progress”.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the Maldives Democracy Network have also suggested the police should be conducting investigations more transparently. The UK government has this week expressed concern over the disappearance.

Speaking to Minivan News today, police media officials said  that there were no further developments in the investigation that could be shared with media or the public.

Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family and friends continue in their efforts to find him and spread awareness about the disappearance.

In a social media campaign dubbed ‘Find Moyameehaa‘ – referring to the pseudonym adopted by Rilwan on social media – friends and family have so far conducted various activities in the streets of Malé.

Efforts included the gathering of 5000 signatures on the Majlis petition in just over one week, and a gathering for families victims of violent crimes.

“Friends and family will once again be meeting the public on Friday afternoon from 4 to 6pm at the Artificial Beach,” Rilwan’s long time friend Yameen Rasheed explained.

According to Yameen, Friday’s event will be focused on addressing questions surrounding Rilwan’s suspected abduction, spreading information about Rilwan and the loss society will face in losing young minds like him, sharing various literary works he has produced, and conducting a special prayer in hope of his quick and safe return.


Planning department appeals to public to cooperate with census

The Department of National Planning (DNP) has called on all citizens to cooperate in a”national effort” for the 2014 census after suggestions that some groups would refuse to participate.

Assistant Director Fathimath Riyaza said that, while the department has not received any official indications from any persons of intention to boycott the census, it is aware of such sentiments.

The census – scheduled to take place between September 20 and 27 – will be the first time such national data has been collected since 2006.

Locals from the island of Vilufushi in Thaa Atoll have announced that they will be boycotting the census, due to the failure to provide permanent residents for those left homeless after the 2004 tsunami,

President of the Villufushi Island Council Ibrahim Shafiu stated that, while the decision to boycott the census was not taken by the council, it understands the reasons behind citizens’ refusal to participate.

“The general spirit among the people of Villufushi is that it is pointless to participate in the census when for years the state has failed to provide us something so crucial as a permanent address,” said Shafiu.

“We are living in 309 houses built for us by the Maldivian Red Crescent in 2009 after the tsunami disaster, but so far the government has failed to register these houses in our names,” he told Minivan News today.

Shafiu explained that the matter is currently under the jurisdiction of the ministry of housing and infrastructure after a 2012 council document outlined procedures for registering residents.

After sharing the document with the Local Government Authority, the Thaa Atoll Council, the housing ministry asked the council to halt the process while it sought advice from the attorney general, providing no other feedback.

“Over a year and a half has passed since then, and there has been no progress on this matter. I fear that this may lead to the beginning of multiple social problems on this island,” he stated.

Deputy Minister for Housing and Infrastructure Abdulla Muhthalib said that the delays in registering the houses is being caused by the “complex nature” of the matter.

According to Muhthalib, the Maldives Red Crescent (MRC) agreements state that each of the houses belongs to a number of persons who often do not share any familial relationships.

“If we register every house to the random collection of people who as per the agreement owns a part of it, it will only give raise to further problems. This makes it hard and so we have to find a way to avoid possible complications that may arise if we register the houses in this manner,” he explained.

He stated that the issue has been discussed with the Attorney General, but was unable to share details of current progress on the matter.

Fathimath Riyaza of the DNP said noted that the census was very important for the nation, and so individuals should offer their full cooperation.

“What we are conducting is a national effort done for the purpose of updating statistics, I therefore call on all citizens to cooperate with our work,” she stated.

Riyaza noted that the department had discussed the matter with the Vilufushi Island Council.

She also addressed comments on social media suggesting a boycott of the census in response to the perceived inadequate response to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

“We, too, are extremely concerned and saddened by the journalist’s disappearance. However, it is not our job to look for and find any particular person. I call on the people to refrain from connecting these two things and to give us information about themselves.”


“Hope Rilwan is found safe and sound”: Gayoom

Former President and leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has expressed his hope that missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla will be found “safe and sound”.

Speaking at a press conference held on Sunday on his return from a seminar in Samoa, Gayoom responded to media queries regarding Rilwan, believed to have been abducted 30 days ago.

“I believe the government is conducting a lot of work to find him. No government body has been negligent in this work. They are speedily conducting the investigation. God willing, this matter will be solved at the earliest, and he will be found safe and sound,” Gayoom stated.

“Our party is also looking into this matter very closely. Our party has even released a press statement expressing our deep concern on the matter. We said (in the statement) that we hope is found safe and sound,” Gayoom continued.

Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family and friends have approached all major political parties including ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Jumhoorere Party (JP) and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) requesting meetings and cooperation in efforts to find the 28-year-old journalist.

While the group reports that they have met with the MDP and JP, who have both pledged to offer assistance, the PPM has so far failed to respond to the request.


Raajje TV blurs news segment on missing journalist in solidarity

Expressing solidarity with missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, opposition aligned broadcaster Raajje TV’s staff have today donned black and blurred presenter’s faces on news segments regarding the disappearance.

Explaining the decision, Raajje TV said, “Rilwan has been disappeared, but we will not let it be forgotten for one moment.”

The station said it will continue with focusing out on news segments regarding Rilwan until facts of his disappearance are clear.

“Raajje TV’s main focus at the moment is to find Rilwan alive. We hope to see Rilwan back in journalism as soon as possible,” the station said in a statement today.

Raajje TV itself has suffered numerous attacks over the past two years, including vandalism of equipment and an arson attack that destroyed its offices and equipment. The station’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed also survived a near fatal assault in February 2012.

Expressing empathy with Rilwan’s family, Raajje TV called on the government, law enforcement agencies, media, civil society organizations and the public to step up efforts to find Rilwan.

“A Maldivian and a member of the Maldivian media family has been abducted and disappeared. Raajje TV believes a thorough investigation must be conducted and facts must be made known in this case,” the station said.

The Maldives Police Services have revealed very little information on the case. The passports of four individuals have reportedly been held over the case.

The station’s news site has also hosted a banner counting the days since Rilwan’s disappearance.

Minivan News Managing Editor Daniel Bosley thanked Raajje TV for its “incredible coverage.”

“It has been of great comfort during these difficult weeks to know that we have the support of others in the media community. We will continue to draw strength from the support of Raajje TV and other journalists as we continue the campaign to find Rilwan.”

Today marks the 25th day since Rilwan’s disappearance. Evidence gathered by Minivan News suggests Rilwan was abducted. Eyewitnesses said they saw a man being forced into a car at knifepoint infront of Rilwan’s apartment building on the night he disappeared.

Rilwan’s family and friends have meanwhile launched an extensive campaign to pressure government, including petitions, meeting state agencies, and raising public awareness on the issue.

Rilwan’s mother, Aminath Easa, 67, has also urged all families of victims of violent crime to work together to ensure justice.A meeting of families has been called for Wednesday September 3, at 9pm in Malé City Hall.

An Avaaz petition has also been launched calling on the Maldives government to expedite the search to find Rilwan and to guarantee a safe environment for all journalists, human rights defenders and bloggers in the Maldives.


MNDF assists police in sea search for missing Minivan News journalist

The Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) is helping the Maldives Police Services in searching the Hulhumalé lagoon for signs of missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, Home Minister Umar Naseer has said.

Speaking at a press conference at noon, Naseer said a team of 40 police officers, including senior officials, and MNDF divers are involved in the “top priority case.”

The Home Ministry did not inform or invite Minivan News to the press conference.

The police are conducting a land search of Malé’s suburb island Hulhumalé with court warrants and MNDF divers are conducting a search of the waters around the island, Naseer said.

Minivan News believes Rilwan, 28-years-old, has been abducted. Two eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw a man being forced into a car in front of Rilwan’s apartment building at knifepoint in Hulhumalé at the time Rilwan is believed to have gone missing.

“Such an incident happened and was reported to the police. But it is not yet established if the incident is related to Rilwan,” Naseer said adding that the police is considering multiple courses in its investigation.

He assured the Maldives media and the public the government is “taking all necessary steps.”

The police have now deployed all resources for the search, Naseer added. He also appealed to the public to come forward with any information and contact the police via emergency number 911, hotline number 3322111 and mobile number 9888999.

Rilwan was last seen on the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry on August 8. However, his family and friends only reported him as missing on August 13 as he is known to drop out of contact for a few days periodically.

When asked if religious extremists were involved in Rilwan’s disappearance, Naseer said “it is not the time point fingers at specific groups.”

Rilwan had received threats from online anonymous Islamist groups for his social media activity. However, he did not report having received threats in the week leading up to his disappearance.

Blogger and journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed had his throat slit in 2012 after publicly calling for religious tolerance. He narrowly survived, and has now sought asylum abroad. His attackers were never prosecuted and remain at large.

Security experts, with experience in counter terrorism, have told Minivan News that Rilwan was also considered a target.

Journalists and politicians have reported a spike in anonymous death threats in recent weeks. Authorities have failed to take any action regarding such threats.

The security experts have also alleged an alliance between radicals and gangs in the Maldives, as evident by a number of abductions in June. At the time, two men were briefly held and interrogated on their faith and accused of homosexuality and atheism.

The experts also suggested that many within the security forces had indeed themselves become radicalised – a claim previously made by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

On Friday (August 15), members of Rilwan’s family received phone calls and were also approached outside a mosque with anonymous warnings to call off the search efforts of around 30 friends and relatives.

International groups including the UN’s Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights (OCHR) have called for a speedy and thorough investigation.

The OCHR has also called on the authorities to address any threats and initimidation and “do their utmost to ensure that they are able to operate without fear for their safety.”

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed in a tweet today said: “We give full assurance to the family & public that everything possible is being done to find missing journalist.”

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


Missing journalist caught on ferry terminal CCTV footage

Missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla has been seen on CCTV footage from the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé at 12:45am on August 8.

He is seen wearing a black shirt, black trousers and carrying a black backpack. He is wearing while soled Crocs shoes. He is 28-years-old, of medium build, around 5ft 10 inches tall, with a short beard.

Footage shows him buying a ticket from the counter, going into the bathroom, then coming out and handing his ticket to a ferry terminal staff and walking to the waiting area.

Rilwan lived by himself in Hulhumalé at the time of his disappearance. Today is the ninth day since he was last seen.

The CCTV footage contradicts an earlier statement by a friend of Rilwan who claimed to have seen him wearing a turquoise shirt late on the night of August 7.

Family, friends, and Minivan News were unable to identify Rilwan when they first viewed the footage on Saturday, as they were looking for a man in a turquoise shirt.

Minivan News apologises for the mistake.

It now appears Rilwan boarded the one o’clock ferry. The new information corroborates with earlier evidence, including a tweet from his account @moyameeha at 1:02am in which he reported seeing local movie star Yoosuf Shafeeu on the ferry.

A witness on Thursday also told Minivan News and the Maldives Police Services that he had sat next to Rilwan on the early morning ferry on August 8.

Based on eyewitness accounts, the police released a statement on Thursday stating Rilwan was wearing a turquoise shirt and was last seen in the early morning on the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry.

After the incorrect statement by family members and Minivan News, the police subsequently told local media they were unsure if Rilwan had boarded the ferry. The police told Minivan News the search is ongoing.

Before Rilwan went into the ferry terminal, he parked his motorbike near the carnival grounds in Malé. The motorbike is still parked at the same location.

Rilwan’s final Viber message was sent at 1:42 am.

A group of 30 people conducted a land search of Hulhumalé on Saturday, but found no sign of Rilwan. During the 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.

The International Federation of Journalists together with its affiliate the Maldives Journalists Association has called on the government to speed up investigation to clarify of whereabouts of Rilwan.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile put out a statement last night expressing concern with the police investigation and efforts to locate Rilwan, which it contended were “inadequate”.

The main opposition party noted that Rilwan disappeared at a time when journalists were facing intimidation and receiving death threats.

The MDP referred to the party bringing to the government’s attention the abduction of alleged advocates of secularism by a vigilante group in June.

“However, we note with regret that the government has taken no action concerning [the abductions],” the statement read. The party also referred to previous threats against journalists and the arson attack against the opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

At the time, the party claimed to have “received information that some religious extremists have kidnapped young people claiming they had committed irreligious acts.”

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, but he had not reported having received any threats in days prior to his disappearance.

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

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.