Maldives: Four years after the disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan, a full and credible investigation still missing
8 August 2018 4:02 pm
(Bangkok/Male, 8 August 2018) – Today marks four years since Ahmed Rilwan, a Maldivian journalist and blogger, disappeared after he was allegedly abducted on 8 August 2014. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) call on the authorities to conduct a transparent, independent and credible investigation into his disappearance and ensure justice for Rilwan and his family. The disappearance of Rilwan, and the murder of his close friend and human rights defender, Yameen Rasheed, remain painful reminders of the blatant violations of human rights and injustice in the Maldives.
Rilwan was an outspoken critic of widespread human rights violations, government corruption and rising Islamic extremism in the Maldives. He was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Hulhumalé in the early hours of 8 August 2014, and he has been missing since.
The Maldivian authorities have repeatedly dismissed the numerous campaigns calling for prompt investigations and countless other efforts over the past four years by his relatives, friends and Maldivian human rights organisations to find out what happened to Rilwan and what his whereabouts are now.
On 2 August 2018, the Criminal Court acquitted two primary suspects in Rilwan’s disappearance, highlighting negligence by the police and the prosecution. Delivering the verdict, the Criminal Court Judge pointed to blatant failures of the police to conduct a thorough investigation into what he called a ‘dangerous atrocity that seemed to have been conducted by a network of several people’. Among others, the court cited gross mishandling of key forensic evidence on which the prosecution’s case was built, and failure of police to establish the identity of the suspects and the ownership of the car alleged to have been used in the abduction as reasons for their acquittal.
Acquittal of key suspects on the grounds of a flagrantly incomplete investigation by the police and the prosecution only gives credence to serious accusations of complicity of the police and the prosecution in covering up his disappearance, and obstructing the investigation.
Furthermore, the recent comments by President Yameen regarding Rilwan’s disappearance adds to the concerns. Speaking at a campaign rally on 7 August 2018, the President said that Rilwan is dead, contradicting investigators’ claims that they have no definitive evidence of his death. Later on the same day, the President, who had declined to comment on the case until now, withdrew his comments saying his intention was not to officially declare that Rilwan is dead but to counter allegations that he obstructed the investigation in to Rilwan’s disappearance.
The President’s comments, emphasise the urgent need for a fresh, independent investigation in to his disappearance and the allegations of collusion at the highest levels of the Government to suppress the investigation.
Under international law, the Rilwan’s family has rights to know the truth about the circumstances leading to his enforced disappearance and his fate, including the right to freedom to seek, receive and impart information to this end. Not providing adequate information to his family regarding the investigation is a gross violation by the investigating authorities. The persistent failure to ensure a proper and thorough investigation adds insult to injury. While the State has already declared it will appeal the verdict against the two suspects, such moves are meaningless if they are not combined with drastic change in action by both the police and the prosecution.
FORUM-ASIA and MDN fully support the efforts by Rilwan’s family to hold the authorities accountable for their negligence to investigate his disappearance, and protect him from the violent threats against him prior to his disappearance.
Rilwan’s disappearance as well as the Government’s continued failure to provide justice for Rilwan and his family is emblematic of the human rights situation in the Maldives, and continued threats and attacks against human rights defenders. Having failed to protect them from open and violent threats against them, the State must not fail justice for them and their families. Failure will only perpetuate such blatant violations and embolden perpetrators.
FORUM-ASIA and MDN call on the authorities to immediately undertake their responsibilities to carry out a credible investigation earnestly and without further delay to ensure justice for Rilwan and his family. A transparent, independent and credible investigation should not only focus on the primary suspects, but also into all that have played their part in planning, executing and covering up the truth in the disappearance of Rilwan.
For more information, contact:
– South Asia Programme, FORUM-ASIA, firstname.lastname@example.org