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 lack of action from the 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.
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).
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, which remained pending at the High Court as of early 2024, Aisha Rasheed said.
Wisham Ismail, defense lawyer for Mohamed Dhifran, told CPJ that he and his client welcomed having the judgment weighed by an appellate court.
CPJ contacted the defense lawyers of the other five 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 Abdulla’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. A previous DDCom report said that Raheem had stalked Abdulla prior to his disappearance.
The Maldives Criminal Court ordered the three be transferred to house arrest in June and July 2023, prior to their full release in October 2023. In November 2023, the court acquitted the three, citing insufficient evidence. Ahmed Naaif, secretary-general of the Maldives Journalists Association, claimed the verdict reflected negligence by prosecutors and DDCom, which had not fully published its investigations as of early 2024, he told CPJ.
The prosecutor general subsequently announced that he would not appeal the verdict but did not specify the reasoning, Naaif said. CPJ was unable to identify contact information for the three accused or their defense lawyers.
The prosecutor general’s office and DDCom member Misbah Abbas did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent early 2024.