President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Tuesday pledged to take “necessary legal action” in light of chilling revelations by an inquiry commission that probed the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
The commission was set up for the purpose of “finding out what happened to Rilwan, bringing the perpetrators to justice and taking all necessary measures to ensure such an incident is not repeated,” Solih tweeted, hours after a summary of the commission’s draft report was shared with parliament and made public on Tuesday morning.
The Maldives Independent journalist was abducted at knifepoint in the early hours of August 8, 2014 and murdered at sea by a local extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the presidential commission concluded.
The 28-year-old’s body was sunk after he was beheaded on a boat, a secret witness told the commission. Aside from two men who were acquitted in August 2018, the report named several other suspects from the extremist group and revealed details of the abduction.
Based on the witness statements, the alleged murderer was identified as Samith Mohamed from Thaa Omadhoo, an extremist who belonged to the Jabhath Al-Nusra militant group in Syria (later known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), which was formerly affiliated with the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.
The president’s assurance came after Rilwan’s family called on the government to take action in the wake of the commission’s chair Husnu Suood’s press briefing on Sunday.
Commission members met with family members before disclosing findings to the public, Rilwan’s family said in a statement, expressing “grave sorrow and discontent” and urging the authorities to take action against individuals named by the commission after preventing them from fleeing the country.
“We also request the authorities to provide security for our family, the members and employees of the commission, witnesses, and others receiving threats from violent groups,” it added, echoing concerns expressed in the wake of Suood’s revelations.
According to media reports, the passports of 14 suspects have been withheld at the request of the presidential commission.
Discussions “at the working level” have started with the presidential commission in relation to Rilwan’s abduction, the Prosecutor General’s office tweeted on Monday, assuring action “without delay” once cases are officially submitted to press charges.
Rilwan’s family also called for the prosecution of former government officials “implicated in derailing and obstructing the police investigation,” referring to former vice president Ahmed Adeeb securing the release of two suspects who were allowed to leave the country in January 2015.
Adeeb also sent two police intelligence officers to the former immigration controller Hassan Ali to seek a copy of Rilwan’s passport in a bid to create false news suggesting that he had left the country and died in Syria, the commission found.
“As a family, for the past five years, we were forced to confront high-level officials accused of enabling perpetrators, or acting negligently, while having prior information about the planned abduction. Endeavouring to get justice for Rilwan has taken an immeasurable toll on the family. Ordinary families are not equipped to handle such a tragedy, but we decided to face this to prevent the possibility of another family suffering the same experience,” the statement continued.
“Each day without justice for Rilwan, further reveals that the Maldivian state is incapable of ensuring safety for anyone living in the Maldives.”
On Monday, the Maldives Police Service promised action against the two intelligence officers after an internal probe by the professional standards command. Legal action will be taken against any officer found to have been negligent or culpable in the commission’s final report, police assured.
“Maldives Police shares in the sorrow felt by Ahmed Rilwan’s family and friends over his disappearance. This service regrets that we did not provide the service expected by Ahmed Rilwan’s family and loved ones in getting justice for Rilwan,” MPS said in a statement.
The commission’s draft report also revealed that police intelligence had followed Rilwan and listened to his phone calls from April to June 2014. The surveillance was conducted at first by the counter-terrorism department but it was “later changed to the political side,” Suood said. According to the request made by the police to obtain a court order to intercept Rilwan’s communications, the journalist was accused of carrying out “activities against the state.”
The intelligence officers who spied on Rilwan were also aware of his abduction before it was reported to police, the commission revealed.