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. 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 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) according to multiple news reports, a statement by the Maldives Democracy Network nongovernmental group, and Aisha Rasheed, the journalist’s sister, who spoke to CPJ in by phone.
The court acquitted Hussain Ziyad, Ismail Rasheed, Hassan Shifaz, and Mohamed Dhifran, citing insufficient evidence, according to those sources. 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,” according to the Maldives Independent. 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.
On February 3, 2022, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced that the Prosecutor General’s would appeal the four acquittals, according to news reports.
CPJ was not able to find any public statements by the six accused. Wisham Ismail, defense lawyer for Mohamed Dhifran, told CPJ via messaging app that he and his client welcomed having the judgment weighed by an appellate court, and the re-assessment of the case by a higher court would be essential for justice in Dhifran’s case, but also criminal justice in the Maldives.
CPJ texted, emailed, and sent messages via messaging app to the defense lawyers of the other five accused for comment in February 2022, but did not receive any replies.
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 the statement by the Maldives Democracy Network and Aisha Rasheed.
A seventh suspect, Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed, was charged in 2017 with aiding and abetting murder and transferred to house arrest, according to the Maldives Independent. Aisha Rasheed told CPJ that she did not know what happened to that defendant.
A local journalist familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said that Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed had become a state witness. CPJ was unable to find contact details for Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed.
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 investigation of the Presidential Commission on Death and Disappearances, according to news reports, and Aisha Rasheed.
The three suspects were accused of involvement in acts of terrorism by planning and executing crimes linked to the two cases, according to those sources. A previous commission report said that Raheem had stalked Rilwan prior to his disappearance, according to news reports.
A criminal court ordered that the three accused be detained until the conclusion of their trials, according to The Edition and Aisha Rasheed. CPJ could not identify public statements by the three accused or contact information for their lawyers.
When reached via messaging app, Maldives police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed declined to comment and referred CPJ to the Presidential Commission on Death and Disappearances.
Misbah Abbas, a member of that commission, told CPJ by phone that Ismail, Muaz, and Raheem’s cases had been referred to the prosecutor general’s office, which planned to file criminal charges in August 2022.