Today marks one month since Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a reporter for the independent news website Minivan News, disappeared. Friends, family, and colleagues believe he was abducted.
"After putting together his last known movements and establishing clearly that this is a case of abduction, the trail has gone cold. No new evidence, no one claiming responsibility for his disappearance," Minivan editor Daniel Bosley told CPJ.
Rilwan was last seen by his family and colleagues on August 7, according to news reports. A Minivan News report cited witnesses who said a man dressed in dark clothes was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan's apartment at about 2 a.m. on August 8.
Rilwan, known to his Twitter followers as Moyameehaa, has a strong record of hard-hitting journalism, and of unearthing important stories. "I hired Rilwan to work for Minivan News in December last year -- it is without a doubt the best decision I have made in my time as editor," Bosley told CPJ. Rilwan has been critical of local politicians and Islamists, and had recently published a report on death threats made against more than a dozen local journalists. Earlier this year, Rilwan reported on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.
"Very few people know much about the Maldives beyond the golden beaches and turquoise waters. If this instance is allowed to pass, and if Rilwan is not found, it will become increasingly unlikely that the real stories of Maldivians will be heard," Bosley told CPJ.
Another Minivan colleague, journalist Zaheena Rasheed, told CPJ, "We do not believe Rilwan's disappearance is an isolated incident. It comes amid various efforts to silence the press, including murder attempts, torching and vandalism of media property and equipment, state harassment of press, and also in a culture of poor law enforcement." She claimed that gangs, religious radicals, and some politicians act in collusion in the Maldives. Rasheed claimed some politicians used gangs and religious radicals to discredit opponents, adding this was done mostly by the government but also, to a lesser extent, by the opposition. Rilwan and other members of the press have reported being frequently threatened by all of these parties, according to Rasheed. The government and opposition party have not responded to a CPJ request for comment on these claims.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, an independent statutory body, has suggested that authorities are not doing enough in the search for Rilwan, according to reports. The United Nations also voiced concern over his disappearance, according to reports.
"While certain sections of the police force are working hard on this case, there appears to be an inexplicable failure to adequately coordinate all the police's resources," Bosley said. Police, however, insist investigations into his disappearance are being made at a rapid pace, according to local news accounts.
Colleagues of Rilwan have banded together to draw attention to his disappearance. Efforts to raise awareness of his case include:
- A website set up by colleagues to document developments in Rilwan's case, and suggestions of ways to help.
- A petition, with more than 5,000 signatures, which was sent to the Majlis, the Maldivian legislature, last week.
- An online petition, which is currently open, has collected more than 900 signatures so far. It is calling on authorities to expedite their search efforts.
- In addition, friends and colleagues have launched a Twibbon campaign to draw attention to Rilwan's disappearance. #FindMoyameehaa is the hashtag being used to discuss the missing journalist on social media.
In the meantime, Rilwan's family, friends, and colleagues hope for his return.