Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla

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Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a blogger and reporter for independent news website Minivan News, was killed by a local Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Maldives on August 8, 2014, Husnu Al Suood, the head of the Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances (DDCom), said on September 1, 2019. Rilwan was last seen on August 7, 2014 and had been considered missing for five years.

Rilwan was forced into a car outside of his home at knifepoint in the early hours of August 8, 2014 before he was taken to a boat out at sea and killed, Suood said, adding that Rilwan had been killed for his writing about alleged Al-Qaeda links in the Maldives and his advocacy for freedom of expression.

The investigations and prosecutions in Rilwan’s case, as well as the 2017 murder of his friend and blogger Yameen Rasheed, have been marred by severe delays and allegations of government negligence, police cover-ups, and external interference in the judicial process.

As of early 2024, Rilwan’s family had not received the journalist’s body nor official confirmation from the government regarding his death, according to a family member of the journalist who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

Rilwan, known for his reporting on political corruption and Islamist extremism, had received several threats from criminal gangs and radical groups prior to his disappearance and murder, according to a DDCom report and a report by the Maldivian Democracy Network nongovernmental group.

Prior to the journalist’s murder in April 2014, police obtained a court order to surveil Rilwan’s phone on grounds that he and others were involved in “activities prejudicial to the national security of the country,” DDCom later revealed.

DDCom identified several individuals suspected of involvement in Rilwan’s abduction and killing, and subsequent government interference in the case. Six suspects in the case also fled the Maldives to Syria, the commission said.

Two suspects charged with abducting Rilwan were acquitted in 2018 after prosecutors failed to submit a chain of custody report with key forensic evidence, as well as the ownership registration of the red car allegedly used in the journalist’s abduction. The prosecutor general’s office did not appeal the verdict, according to Rilwan’s family member and Ahmed Naaif, secretary-general of the Maldives Journalists Association, who spoke to CPJ.

Suood recommended obstruction of justice charges be filed against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb for allegedly intervening to release two suspects allegedly involved in Rilwan’s disappearance and also said that Adeeb attempted to obtain a copy of Rilwan’s passport in an effort to spread false information that the journalist had left the Maldives and died in Syria.

Suood added that DDCom found evidence that former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom tried to “divert” the focus of the investigation into Rilwan’s abduction and instructed the police commissioner to send investigators “all over the place,” but added that there was not enough evidence to recommend charges.

In August 2021, DDCom summoned Yameen for questioning regarding the allegations of obstruction of justice, but the former president reportedly maintained his silence. In December 2022, the commission said it had received information that Yameen assisted a suspect in Rilwan’s abduction and murder to leave the Maldives for Syria in 2017.

Yameen’s lawyer dismissed allegations of undue interference, and Adeeb has previously denied any involvement in Rilwan’s case.

On June 25, 2022, Maldives police arrested three men—Ahmed Ismail, Ahmed Muaz, and Ismail Abdul Raheem—in connection with Rilwan’s abduction and murder, as well as Rasheed’s murder, following new leads from the DDCom investigation.

The three suspects were accused of involvement in acts of terrorism by planning and executing crimes linked to the two cases.

The Maldives criminal court ordered the three be transferred to house arrest in June and July 2023, prior to their full release months later. In late 2023, following the election of Mohamed Muizzu as president, the court dismissed charges against the three, citing insufficient evidence.

On November 26, 2023, Rilwan’s mother sent a letter to the prosecutor general, reviewed by CPJ, expressing “deep sadness and disappointment” regarding the dismissal of charges. In a response dated December 25, 2023, reviewed by CPJ, the prosecutor general’s office said it did not plan to appeal the case.

Raheem was subsequently appointed as a deputy director in the state-owned Housing Development Corporation but was dismissed following outrage on social media, according to Aisha Rasheed and a family member of Rilwan, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

A DDCom summary report on Rilwan’s abduction released in September 2019 said Raheem followed Rilwan prior to his abduction, and blogger Aminath Sulthona emailed the Maldives police in March 2017, saying that Yameen Rasheed told her that Raheem had been following him.

CPJ was unable to identify contact information for the three accused or their defense lawyers.

The prosecutor general’s office did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent in early 2024.