The criminal court has transferred two suspects arrested in April over the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan to house imprisonment.
Aalif Rauf, 29 years, and Mohamed Nooradeen, 31 years, were moved to their homes on June 12, after nearly two months in police custody.
The pair’s arrest followed a police admission that Rilwan was abducted from outside his apartment on August 8, 2014.
A red car owned by Aalif is suspected to have been used in the abduction, police said, adding that investigators had linked DNA samples lifted from the trunk of Aalif’s car with that of Rilwan’s mother.
Rilwan’s family said they fear the pair may leave the country, noting previous suspects who were arrested, including a man caught on camera tailing the journalist, had fled soon after their release.
Home Minister Umar Naseer, who resigned Tuesday, had told the family that the two suspects had not cooperated with investigations, said Mariyam Fazna, sister of Rilwan.
“We sent messages to Umar Naseer and the police when they were transferred, asking if they’re going to be freed too,” she said.
Insisting that the investigation continues, a police spokesman said: “We can’t keep them in custody for too long.”
Rilwan’s family has previously accused the state of involvement, claiming police were aware much earlier that Aalif’s car had been used in the abduction.
Police failure to investigate the abduction when it was first reported by Rilwan’s neighbours, and the delay in Aalif’s arrest indicates powerful actors had attempted to obstruct the probe, the family have alleged.
Police have confirmed that several young men with the Kuda Henveiru gang – led by Aalif – had tailed Rilwan for over two hours on the night he went missing. The chief suspect, Mohamed Suaid, was detained for a few weeks in September 2014.
Suaid left the country in January 2015 with Aalif’s brother Azlif Rauf, a former soldier arrested for the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012. He was never formally charged.
Their families say the pair died fighting in a battle in Syria last year, but the claim has been disputed by opposition politicians.
Aalif’s brother Ibrahim Aleef Rauf was meanwhile arrested on charges of threatening a member of Rilwan’s family.
Naseer in November revealed that former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, detained on suspicion of links to an explosion on the president’s speedboat, had been questioned over Rilwan’s disappearance.
The journalist’s abduction has received global attention with Reporters Without Borders referring the case to the UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances. The US government and the European Union parliament have also expressed concern.