Ali Shah, a criminal defence attorney, has been arrested on charges of obstructing the investigation into the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed.
The police revealed the lawyer’s arrest in a tweet around 10:15 pm Sunday night. Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, the police spokesman, said Shah was arrested with a court warrant last night.
An informed source told the Maldives Independent that Shah was representing one of the six suspects arrested in connection with the murder.
“In cases where lawyers are acting in a way that threatens the investigation, the usual procedure is for the police to file a complaint with the supreme court. The court will then initiate a disciplinary case and take action against the lawyer, such as suspension,” the source said.
Shah, who has represented clients accused of serious criminal offences, was reportedly suspended by the supreme court in 2015. But the suspension was later lifted.
The police tweet about the lawyer’s arrest was posted shortly after Yameen’s mother appeared on the opposition-aligned Raajje TV for an emotional interview along with the mother of abducted Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan
Yameen’s family have questioned the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation, citing the failure to investigate death threats or arrest suspects in the abduction of Rilwan or the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.
Days after the 29-year-old’s murder, the police claimed to have identified two suspects from security camera footage but later told Yameen’s family that they were in disguise. It is unclear if any of the suspects in custody are the two men whose grainy photos were shared with the public.
Yameen’s family have also sued the police over the failure to protect him despite numerous death threats reported since 2014. Last week, the family also petitioned the UN human rights chief to press the Maldivian authorities to allow an independent investigation led by an international group.
The international outcry sparked by Yameen’s murder meanwhile continues unabated three weeks after he was found with 35 stab wounds in the stairwell of his apartment building in Malé.
On Thursday, a group of 48 press freedom and human rights NGOs from across the globe sent a joint open letter calling on the Maldivian government to “end the cycle of impunity for attacks on journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders that has taken root in the Maldives.”
Yameen’s case is “emblematic of the growing intolerance for ideas and opinions that challenge the role of religion in society throughout South Asia,” the civil society organisations said.
“Similar to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the Maldives, harassment of individuals that promote moderate or secular views has been common, and is justified by both militant criminal groups and sympathetic politicians on the grounds that these ideas are ‘un-Islamic,'” they wrote.
His killing “should serve as a strong indicator of the need for immediate steps to protect space for dissent and debate in the Maldives,” which they observed remains threatened by “draconian laws and impunity for attacks committed against individuals expressing controversial or adversarial opinions.”
The NGOs called on the government to conduct transparent investigations into Yameen’s murder as well as the unsolved cases of Rilwan and Hilath, and to hold accountable the people who sent death threats or incited violence against journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders.
The government was also urged to repeal repressive laws and to improve the independence of the judiciary.
Last Tuesday, shortly after three UN rights experts called for a public inquiry into Yameen’s murder, the foreign ministry put out a statement reiterating the government and President Abdulla Yameen’s strong condemnation.
“The government has mobilised all of its resources to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice,” it assured.
The police addressed two complaints filed by Yameen about receiving death threats, the foreign ministry claimed, adding that the human rights watchdog have launched an inquiry into the police response.
“The government of Maldives takes note of the interests that other governments and international agencies express on the case,” the statement continued, assuring that the police accords “utmost priority” to the case.