October 23, 2014
Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has accused the Maldives Police Services of negligence in investigating the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
In a statement issued today, MDN condemned the police’s failure to inform the public of progress in investigations and failure to confirm whether an abduction reported on the night Rilwan went missing is connected to his disappearance.
“It has been 77 days since journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was abducted. The Maldivian Democracy Network believes the Maldives Police Services has been negligent in conducting a timely investigation aimed at finding Rilwan and saving his life,” the NGO said.
Rilwan was last sighted at 12:55am on August 8 at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé. Eyewitnesses have since said they saw a man being forced into a car at knifepoint infront of Rilwan’s apartment building around the time he would have reached home.
The abduction was reported to the police and a forensics team confiscated a knife that was dropped on the ground.
Rilwan has not been seen or heard from since.
MDN also slammed Home Minister Umar Naseer and Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed for suggesting the NGO’s investigative report implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance was responsible for police’s failure to finding Rilwan.
“Each day and every moment that passes without knowledge of Rilwan’s whereabouts could endanger his life further and deteriorate public’s trust in the police to ensure public safety,” said the NGO.
Inconsistency and negligence
MDN urged the police to clarify the connection between the reported abduction and Rilwan’s disappearance, stating “This organisation believes the Maldives Police Services is obligated to share the progress of investigations into criminal activity that have led to public outcry.”
Police statements on August 28 and September 4, and the police’s announcement that it was collecting forensic samples from three cars suggested they believed the abduction may be connected to Rilwan’s disappearance, MDN noted.
However, on September 16, the police said it had no concrete evidence to suggest the two incidents were related.
Police have yet to offer an explanation of this statement, and have not revealed who was forced into the car, MDN said. Moreover, the police have failed to reveal whether they are investigating the abduction as an unrelated and separate case.
Despite public outcry over the case and repeated requests for information on the investigation, the police have not shared any details with Rilwan’s family or the public, the statement noted.
The investigation – conducted by Glasgow based Athena Intelligence and Security – discounted theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, and confirmed “hostile surveillance” of Rilwan at the ferry terminal by members of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang.
Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed has accused the media and MDN for “obstructing” police investigations, claiming they had revealed leads.
Meanwhile, Naseer said the report had forced the police to change investigation technique and speed up the arrest of four individuals, leading to their early release.
“It has an extreme negative effect on an investigation when people who are not aware of the details of an investigation release reports and offer speculations based purely on hearsay with the intent of gaining some political advantage,” he said.
MDN today hit back at Waheed and Naseer’s claims stating, “instead of investigating allegations against [gang members] named in the report and clearing their names, the police attacked the report and attempted to cover up the criminal offenses outlined in the report.”
The media has previously publicised the names and photos of gang members identified in the report in relation to other criminal activity, the statement noted.
However, the police expressed no concern and “shamefully defended the gang members in the name of protecting human rights,” it said.
MDN also condemned the government’s claim that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party was behind the report, stating “we condemn efforts to politicize this organisation’s work.”
The statement urged the police to refrain from “such undignified actions.”
Naseer has for the first time acknowledged gang involvement in Rilwan’s disappearance, on October 19 stating: “We already knew that there is a gang connection to Rilwan’s case. However, in a modern investigation, one doesn’t immediately arrest suspects. We leave them free and follow them and gather information.”
One man named in the report, Ahmed Muaz vandalised Minivan News’ security camera on September 25 shortly before two others buried a machete in the building’s door.
A Minivan News journalist received death threats shortly thereafter, which read, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”
While police arrested a 32-year-old suspect Thursday night on charges of stealing the security camera – clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage – the Criminal Court released the suspect with conditions the following day.