Yameen Rasheed

Beats Covered:
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Journalist Yameen Rasheed died at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Malé, the Maldives, after he was stabbed multiple times in the stairwell of his apartment building on April 23, 2017, at around 3 a.m. He was 29.

Rasheed was a prominent blogger and satirist who commented on local politics in the Maldives on his blog, The Daily Panic. He had reported receiving several death threats prior to his murder and complained on social media about the lack of action from police after filing a complaint, his sister Aisha Rasheed told CPJ. In an interview, he told The New York Times he had been targeted by radical groups because he spoke out against extremism.

Rasheed also led the “Find Moyameeha” campaign for his friend and Minivan News reporter Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, who the Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances (DDCom) said was abducted and killed by a local Al-Qaeda affiliate in 2014.

The investigations and prosecutions in Rasheed and Rilwan’s cases have been marred by severe delays and allegations of government negligence, police cover-ups, and external interference in the judicial process.

In August 2017, police said that religious extremists had killed Rasheed. The same month, the state charged six individuals—Hussain Ziyad, Ismail Haisham Rasheed, Ismail Rasheed, Hassan Shifaz, Mohamed Dhifran, and Ahmed Zihan Ismail—with first-degree murder.

On January 19, 2022, a criminal court convicted Ismail Haisham Rasheed and Ahmed Zihan Ismail of murdering the journalist, sentenced them to life in prison, and ordered them to pay 1.3 million rufiyaa (US$84,438). Rasheed’s mother asked the court not to order the death penalty against the suspects, citing her son’s opposition to the practice, Aisha Rasheed told CPJ.

The court acquitted Hussain Ziyad, Ismail Rasheed, Hassan Shifaz, and Mohamed Dhifran, citing insufficient evidence. Aisha Rasheed told CPJ that while the four acquitted suspects were found not guilty of murder, the journalist’s family believed they should have been charged with aiding and abetting the attack.

The hearings in the trial were closed to the public at the prosecutor general’s request. Under Maldives law, the prosecutor general can request secret proceedings “if they believe a circumstance that obstructs justice could arise in an open hearing.” The leading judge presiding over the case changed three times over the course of the proceedings, and the court noted problems in the case, including missing pieces of forensic evidence and police failure to maintain a chain of custody record for a video showing one of the acquitted suspects on a motorbike outside the location of the murder, Aisha Rasheed said.

Aisha Rasheed told CPJ that four key witnesses in the case refused to testify and expressed concern that they were subjected to witness intimidation amid repeated hearings postponements by defense lawyers.

A secret witness appeared on behalf of the state during the trial and said Rasheed’s murder had been funded by individuals inside the country, according to Aisha Rasheed. No one has been investigated, arrested, or charged for financing or ordering the killing, according to Aisha Rasheed.

The prosecutor general appealed the verdict against Mohamed Dhifran and Ismail Rasheed, reports said, but the status of the case remained unclear as of early 2024, Aisha Rasheed said.

CPJ contacted Hamza Latheef, defense lawyer for Mohamed Dhifran, and Maumoon Hameed, defense lawyer for Ismail Rasheed, for comment in early 2024, but did not receive any replies.

Abdulla Shaairu, Ziyad’s lawyer, told CPJ that his client maintained his innocence.

CPJ contacted the defense lawyers of the other three accused for comment in February 2022, but did not receive any replies.

A seventh suspect was charged in 2017 with aiding and abetting murder and transferred to house arrest. That suspect became a state witness, according to Aisha Rasheed and a local journalist familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

On June 25, 2022, Maldives police arrested three men—Ahmed Ismail, Ahmed Muaz, and Ismail Abdul Raheem—in connection with Rasheed’s murder, as well as Rilwan’s 2014 abduction and 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.