On Friday evening, the busy junction between Maaveyo Magu and Muiveyo Magu in Malé was packed with people. Parents were out with children, some strolling casually and others eating ice cream at a nearby café.
Many people were also gathered outside the house of ruling party MP Asma Rasheed to pay respects to her late father, Abdulla Rasheed, a well-known producer and owner of the ‘Star Cinema’ who had passed away in the afternoon.
Mariyam Nahula* was tending to her business at a grocery shop in the area. Around 5:20pm, she looked out the front door and was shocked to see a man stabbed in the head. He looked confused and shocked, Nahula recalled.
He was rushed to the hospital on the back of a motorcycle with a 10-inch diving knife planted in his head. Moments earlier, Nahula’s co-worker had seen two men approach the man on a motorcycle.
The victim was 26-year-old Mahfooz Saeed, the youngest member of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s team of lawyers and a rising star in the Maldivian legal community.
“At least a dozen people would have witnessed the attack. And the surveillance camera up there,” a customer at the grocery store said, pointing towards police CCTV cameras a few feet away.
I went to the Maaveyo Magu junction about two hours after the stabbing and was surprised to discover there was no crime scene. The blood had been washed and there were no police tapes.
Witnesses told me that the police “rushed to do business and went away as soon as possible.”
The assailants had stabbed Mahfooz on the left side of his head. If the knife had been buried a few inches deeper, Mahfooz was unlikely to survive the murder attempt. However, the knife missed the brain and nerves leading to his ears. After a three-hour surgery, doctors say Mahfooz is expected to recover in a week.
The stabbing of Mahfooz cannot be easily dismissed as gang violence, an attempted robbery, or an assault by drug addicts. There is no conclusive evidence at the moment to suggest a motive, but the events leading up to the assault bears careful consideration.
Echoing the sentiments of many opposition supporters in a speech delivered at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally on August 27, Mahfooz said continuing dialogue with the administration of President Abdulla Yameen was futile after the government failed to honour its commitment to release former President Nasheed.
Nasheed was taken back to the high-security Maafushi prison on August 23 after two months under house arrest, prompting the MDP to withdraw from talks with the government and gear up to resume its anti-government campaign.
“I call on all of you to come out and join the war against the government,” Mahfooz said.
Moments after he stepped down from the podium, pro-government online news outlet Vaguthu ran a story with the headline, ‘MDP calls on people to come out for war against the government.’
On Thursday, President Yameen told supporters on the island of Goidhoo in Baa atoll that he was unfazed by threats.
“I came to office to serve the people. When I assumed office the Maldives was at a dangerous state. However, my family and I took this path to do whatever we have to do. I will not be unsettled by threats. This government will seek to stop terrorism, we will take the long road,” he said.
A day before the president’s remarks, MP Ahmed Siyam, leader of the government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), told the people of Noonu Atoll Landhoo that “yellow fever” has been eradicated from the island. Yellow is the MDP’s colour.
“God willing, we will eradicate it from this entire atoll and the country,” he said.
But in the case of people like Mahfooz, “curing yellow fever” might prove an impossible task – even for a wealthy resort tycoon like Siyam.
Mahfooz may not be well known among the public, but he plays an important role in Maldivian politics. In addition to being a member of Nasheed’s legal team, Mahfooz is an outspoken and fierce critic of the judiciary. He writes in several blogs about judicial reform and the shortcomings of the Maldives justice system.
I have known Mahfooz for five years. He was the only law student that a prosecutor general sent as a representative to court. He is one of the few people I know who works from eight in the morning to midnight.
Mahfooz is a man of principles and a proponent of the rule of law. He is determined to bring an end to what he calls “the great period of injustice” in Maldivian history.
I sat down with Mahfooz last Wednesday to talk politics. I expressed concern that he could face criminal prosecution over his speech at the MDP rally, but Mahfooz was steadfast and unconcerned.
“If I have to I will even go to jail. Somebody has to. I am not scared. This injustice has to stop and being silent is the biggest crime in a situation like this,” he told me.
His resolve and determination will not come as a surprise to those who know him well. Abdulla Shaairu, a colleague on Nasheed’s legal team, told me that Mahfooz will become one of the most brilliant lawyers in the Maldives.
“I have worked with him for several years now. He has always said he wanted to be one of the best lawyers in Maldives. He has given his input in every single case that I handled to for years now. And it would have been very difficult for us if he was not with us in Nasheed’s team,” he said.
The incumbent Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin was a lecturer for Mahfooz at law school. Muhsin recalled that Mahfooz was one of his brightest and most academically accomplished students.
“There are not many people that passionate about law and justice that you need to teach others as well. Mahfooz was a person like that. He is very good at academic legal writings. He is one of the best young lawyers in Maldives now,” Muhsin said.
Mahfooz’s uncle Mohamed Rauf described his nephew as a gentleman who maintains close relations with all his family members.
“Even at the time he was stabbed he was going to visit his mother. He loves us all very much. He helps us in any way he could,” Rauf said.
However, Rauf warned Mahfooz’s attackers not to confuse his kindness with weakness. Rauf has no doubt that “such cowardly acts” will not scare off or deter Mahfooz.
“I am 100 percent confident he will remain in this fight for justice. He will continue his work to free Nasheed. And his family will always be there to support him,” he said.
* Name changed to protect identity.