Letters   |   Maldives

CPJ urges Maldives to launch independent investigation into case of missing journalist Rilwan

August 6, 2015

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom
President of the Republic of Maldives
The President's Office
Boduthakurufaanu Magu, Malé 20113
Republic of Maldives

Via fax: 960-332-5500

Dear President Yameen,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent international press freedom organization, is writing to express its concern about a Maldivian journalist who has been missing for a year and to call on your government to ensure a credible and independent investigation into his disappearance.

Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla worked as a reporter for the independent news website Minivan News and was known to his Twitter followers as "Moyameehaa," according to news reports. He often criticized local politicians and Islamists in his reporting. Before he went missing, Rilwan published a report on death threats received by local journalists that warned them against reporting on local criminal gangs. He also wrote a story on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

In mid-August 2014, a Minivan News report suggested Rilwan had been abducted during the early hours of August 8. A group of men appeared to be tracking Rilwan's movements as he boarded a ferry to go home, according to the report which cited CCTV footage. Later that night, a man dressed in dark clothes was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan's apartment at around 2 a.m., according to the report which cited eyewitnesses.

The journalist has not been seen or heard from since.

In the weeks following his disappearance, Rilwan's family, friends, and colleagues organized and deployed search teams to scan the island for him, and collected more than 5,000 signatures in a petition that was sent to the Maldivian legislature. But these same family and friends have been harassed and threatened in person, in text messages, and on social media, according to one of Rilwan's colleagues who spoke to CPJ.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of his disappearance, the investigation into his case has yielded virtually no results. Rilwan's colleagues said authorities were slow to act and that the official investigation has been inadequate. They said that police took several days to search Rilwan's office for clues, and have still not categorized Rilwan's case as an abduction, kidnapping, or missing person's case. Two suspects implicated in the journalist's disappearance were able to leave the country to join the ongoing conflict in Syria, according to news reports.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, an independent statutory body, suggested that authorities were not doing enough to investigate Rilwan's disappearance, according to reports. The United Nations also voiced its concern about the case.

In September, Rilwan's family asked the Police Integrity Commission, an official oversight body, to investigate allegations of police negligence in the handling of the case. The commission agreed, but has not yet released a report on the matter, according to news reports.

The journalist's colleagues have also told CPJ that you have declined to meet with Rilwan's family despite their repeated requests. We ask that, in the spirit of human compassion, you meet with Rilwan's family and provide them an opportunity to express their grievances.

Rilwan's family has supported calls for an independent, impartial inquiry into his disappearance, but their efforts have stalled, according to news reports. We urge your government to launch an independent investigation into this case and ensure that all the resources necessary are used. Given recent political turbulence in the country following the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed, we believe implementing such a probe would help establish public confidence in your administration.

President Yameen, if no independent investigation is launched into Rilwan's disappearance, Maldives risks joining the ranks of violent or repressive states like Syria, Mexico, and Russia, where journalists go missing and anti-press violations are at a high. We ask that you take this opportunity to demonstrate that the Maldives is committed to ensuring full justice for all of its citizens.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Robert Dietz
CPJ Asia Program Coordinator

CC List:

Umar Naseer, Minister of Home Affairs, Maldives

Major General (Ret.) Moosa Ali Jaleel, Minister of Defense and National Security, Maldives

Dunya Maumoon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maldives

Hussain Waheed, Commissioner of Police, Maldives Police Service

Andrew C. Mann, Chargé d'Affaires ad Interim, Embassy of the United States Sri Lanka and Maldives

Atul Keshap, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia, U.S. Department of State

Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State

Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council

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