Reporters Without Borders condemns stabbing of Hilath Rasheed: “All the hallmarks of a targeted murder attempt”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the stabbing of well-known Maldivian journalist and blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.

Rasheed had his throat slashed outside his house in Male’ around 8:15pm on Monday night, and was rushed to ADK Hospital for emergency surgery. Sources at the hospital said that the attack severed his trachea (windpipe), missing a vital artery “by millimetres”, and initially gave him a five percent chance of survival.

Hospital staff stabilised Rasheed’s condition around 2:30am on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday evening his condition was said to be improving. An informed source told Minivan News that Rasheed was unable to speak due to his injuries, but had communicated with his parents in writing.

“This knife attack has all the hallmarks of a targeted murder attempt,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“Rasheed has made many enemies through his outspoken blogging. The authorities in charge of the investigation should not rule out the possibility that this was linked to his journalistic activity. He is a well-known journalist who has repeatedly been censored, arrested and threatened.

“The police must, as a matter of urgency, put a stop to the harassment of Rasheed and take the issue of his safety seriously. Any lack of response on their part will constitute a criminal failure to assist a person in danger,” RSF stated.

The organisation noted that Rasheed had previously been attacked on December 10, 2011, suffering a fractured skull “while attending a peaceful demonstration in support of religious tolerance.”

“The police then arrested him for taking part in the demonstration and held him until 9 January,” RSF added, noting that Rasheed’s blog,, had also been blocked on the orders of Ministry of Islamic Affairs on 19 November 2011 on the grounds that it contained “anti-Islamic” material.

“If it is confirmed that the attack was prompted by his journalism and blogging, Rasheed would be the first journalist to have been the target of a murder attempt in Maldives,” RSF observed.

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has also condemned the attack on Rasheed.

“The violent attack on Hilath was an attempt to kill him. The association calls on the authorities to find those who had involved in this crime and bring them to justice,” the MJA stated.
“We call on the police and political figures of this country to stop quarrelling for power and make the country – especially the capital Male’ – a place where families and children can live without fear.”

The MJA added that if the trend of violent murders across the country continued, the resulting impact on the country’s tourism-based economy would be “irrevocable”.

Minister for Human Resources and spokesperson for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told AFP that while the government condemned the attack, “Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists.”

“We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” Shareef said.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile said that while no arrests had been made, police had obtained CCTV footage of the area and were in the process of analysing it.

Police were also investigating the stabbing of a Bangladeshi man at 11pm on the same evening, Haneef said. The victim suffered minor injuries and was discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

The Maldives was ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The country jumped from 148th in 2005 to 51st in 2009, following the introduction of multiparty democracy and freedom of expression.


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.”


Amnesty declares imprisoned blogger a prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International has declared imprisoned blogger Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed a prisoner of conscience, and called for his “immediate and unconditional” release.

The controversial blogger was arrested on December 14 following his participation in a ‘silent protest’ on Human Rights Day, calling for religious tolerance in the Maldives.

A group of men attacked the protesters with stones, and Rasheed was taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) with a fractured skull. He was subsequently arrested for questioning over his involvement in the silent gathering, and the Criminal Court granted police a 10 day extension of detention for the investigation.

“The continued detention of Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed is in breach of international treaties on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Maldives is a state party,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“Amnesty International is 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 attack on Rasheed and his subsequent detention was a “clear example of the erosion of freedom of expression in the Maldives,” Amnesty stated.

“This basic human right is not just under attack from some religious groups; it is also violated by the government of the Maldives. All people in the Maldives should be able to enjoy their right to freedom of expression without being attacked or detained by the police.”

President Mohamed Nasheed was himself declared an Amnesty prisoner of conscience in 1991, following his repeated and prolonged incarceration by the former government.

A photo of Rasheed's alleged attacker taken by the protesters

Journalist detained

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also called for Rasheed’s immediate release.

“All he did was start a debate about the issues of religious freedom and tolerance in Maldives,” RSF stated.

“The authorities must explain the reasons for his arbitrary detention and release him at once. It is disturbing to see the government yet again yielding to pressure from the most conservative fringes of Maldivian society.”

Rasheed was one of the country’s leading free speech advocates and one of the few Maldivians bloggers to write under his own name, RSF observed.

“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.”


President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, told Minivan News that Hilath had been arrested under an existing regulation passed by parliament that had no bearing on the [executive] government.

“The government’s policy is to allow freedom of expression to the greatest extent possible under the Constitution,” he said.

Under new regulations published by the government in September, interpreting the 1995 Religious Unity Act passed by parliament, media is “banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

Violation of the Act carries a prison sentence of between 2-5 years, and the Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) in November blocked access to Rasheed’s blog on orders from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic material.

Rasheed was arrested amid growing religious and political tensions in the Maldives in the lead up to a ‘Defend Islam’ protest to be held on Friday, December 23.

The protest follows several incidents of religious intolerance in the past few months, including as vandalism of the ‘idolatrous’ SAARC monuments in Addu Atoll and hostility towards calls by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for a moratorium and debate on the flogging of women for extramarital sex.

The December 23 protest is being organised by a coalition of religious NGOs and opposition political parties, who have attacked the government for decisions such as its diplomatic relationship with Israel.

“The government is saying that the Maldives has had an unbroken Islamic tradition for 800 years, and 90 consecutive Chief Justices who have applied Sharia Law,” Zuhair said.

“The President is asking everyone to take a stand tomorrow on the 23rd for the continuation of the Maldives’ moderate Islamic tradition,” he said.

It was “not accurate” to suggest that the government was yielding to fundamentalist fringe elements, he insisted.

“This is political. [Former President] Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his cronies are testing their support base. The people who are funding this so-called Islamic gathering are the same people selling pork and alcohol.”


“Don’t give in to fanatical minority”, Reporters Without Borders urges government

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have issued a statement urging the government “not to give in to the fanatical minority” and to do “all it can to ensure the media are free to tackle any subjects they choose.”

The statement came in response to the Islamic Ministry’s ordering of the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) to block the website of controversial blogger, Ismail Khilath “Hilath” Rasheed, on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic material.

“The increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives’ young democracy”, RSF said its statement, requesting the “immediate reopening of [Hilath’s] blog.”

RSF noted that there were harsh penalties for blasphemy under Maldivian law following new regulations enforcing the 1994 Religious Unity Act, which bans the media from circulating any material that “humiliates Allah, his prophets, the Koran, the Sunnah or the Islamic faith”.

Incidents involving media workers are rare in the Maldives, RSF observed, “but that is only because most of them prefer to censor themselves and stay away from subjects relating to Islam, unlike Ismail Khilath Rasheed.”

“According to Rasheed, the Islamic Affairs Ministry had his blog in its sights because he is a Sufi Muslim, not a Sunni like most Maldivians, and has always been highly critical of religious fundamentalism.”

RSF compiles the annual Press Freedom Index. The Maldives is currently ranked 52nd out of 178 countries.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, acknowledged that the decision would affect the Maldives’ reputation for press freedom.

“The government has a responsibility to protect the tenets of Islam,” Zuhair said, but urged Hilath to appeal the decision: “I believe there should be more dialogue and discussion before action is taken.”

“Blocking a website containing undesirable material is not an option for the Maldivian government. The Internet is larger than 1-2 Maldivian bloggers. Should we shut out all content deemed undesirable by Islamic scholars, and is it even technically possible with filtering?”

Zuhair noted that the Maldives had benefited from having one the highest rates of Internet penetration in the region.

According to Facebook statistics, one third of the Maldives population have accounts on the social network, the vast majority of them aged between 18-35.


Maldives makes “solid gains” in press freedom: Reporters Without Borders

  • The Maldives has made “solid gains” towards press freedom according to the Reporters Without Borders 2010 Press Freedom Index, although its ranking has slipped from 51 to 52.

    “As a rule, the authorities have been respectful of press freedoms, exemplified by their decriminalisation of press offences in the Maldives,” the report stated.

    The ranking places the Maldives at the top of the South Asian countries for press freedom, and among the most free in Asia behind Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

    The Maldives was ranked 129 in 2007, jumping to 104 in 2008 and 51 in 2009 following the election of President Mohamed Nasheed.

    France, the home of RWB (Reporters Sans Frontières) ranked 44, while regionally, India (122), Bangladesh (126) and Sri Lanka (158) were ranked far below the Maldives.

    “Less violence was noted [in Sri Lanka], yet the media’s ability to challenge the authorities has tended to weaken with the exile of dozens of journalists,” the RWB report stated.

    Scandinavian countries including Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were ranked first, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were ranked last.

    The RWB report was damning of Asia-Pacific’s overall performance, particularly across communist and military regimes, while democratic countries such as Japan (11) and Australia (18) fared far better. However “Malaysia (141), Singapore (136) and East Timor (93) are down this year.”

    “In Afghanistan (147th) and in Pakistan (151st), Islamist groups bear much of the responsibility
    for their country’s pitifully low ranking. Suicide bombings and abductions make working as a journalist an increasingly dangerous occupation in this area of South Asia,” the report noted.

    “In short, repression has not diminished in ASEAN countries, despite the recent adoption of a human rights charter.”

    The RWB report focuses on state repression of the media and threat to the safety of journalists, and not the condition of a country’s media industry itself.

    Visiting journalism trainer Tiare Rath, Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) recently identified that political partisanship among senior editorial leadership in the Maldives was obstructing the development of a free and independent media – often despite the good intentions of rank-and-file journalists.

  • “I have been really impressed with news judgement here, and the understanding of the basic principles of journalism,” Rath said of her experience training young reporters in the Maldives.

    “But on the other hand, one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers. Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” she said.

    “This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”