August 19, 2014
Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has urged the government of the Maldives to step up efforts to trace journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, whom colleagues fear was abducted on August 8th by gang members linked to Islamic radicals.
The call follows an appeal by Malé-based news website Minivan News, for which the 28- year-old reporter and human rights advocate has worked since last December. In a statement, Minivan said Rilwan, who is also known as Rizwan, had faced “persistent intimidation from groups accusing him of breaching the country’s strict religious laws by promoting secularism”.
Climate of fear
It said a series of vigilante attacks on and abductions of perceived secularists in June had fuelled a climate of fear in the country. “More recently, a spate of gang-related attacks was
accompanied by anonymous texts to journalists warning them not to report on gang activities.” There have so far been no arrests.
Minivan said several eyewitnesses reported seeing a man fitting Rilwan’s description being forced at knifepoint into a car in front of Rilwan’s apartment building on the island of Hulhumalé shortly after he is thought to have arrived by ferry from the island capital Malé.
Violence against journalists is not uncommon in the Indian Ocean archipelago. The studios of Raajje TV, aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, were firebombed last October, and one of its journalists lost the sight of one eye following an attack in which an iron bar was used.
In 2012 gay journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed fled the country and sought asylum abroad after narrowly surviving a murder attempt. His throat was slit in an attack after he had called for religious tolerance.
Interviewees for a recent Irish Times article on Islamic radicalisation in the Maldives have also received online threats.
“There is every reason to be concerned about Rilwan, especially as gangs and religious extremists are very often responsible for threats to journalists,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire. “We . . . urge the authorities to step up their efforts to find him as quickly as possible.”