Missing Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s family and friends delivered today 500 origami cranes to President Abdulla Yameen urging him to expedite the investigation into the reporter’s disappearance.
Family and friends say they are worried over the apparent lack of progress in the search for Rilwan. The 29-year old journalist was last seen 503 days ago boarding a midnight ferry to Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé. He is believed to have been abducted.
The crane, Rilwan’s favourite origami model, represents peace, happiness and the desire for a long life.
“President Yameen has refused to comment on my brother’s disappearance, and has declined to meet us. Today, we are submitting a letter and 500 paper cranes asking for his urgent intervention,” said Fathimath Shehenaz, Rilwan’s sister.
Soon after Rilwan’s family and friends stepped out of the president’s office, nearly a dozen police officers arrived on the scene and attempted to chase them away from the area.
Police officers have routinely cracked down on the group’s activities, disrupting a press conference in July this year and pepper-spraying and arresting family members at a memorial walk on the anniversary of Rilwan’s disappearance.
“Despite this crackdown, we will continue to remind the state of its responsibilities in finding Rilwan,” said The Maldives Independent’s editor Zaheena Rasheed. “The number 500 rolls off the tongue quite easily, but counting this many days since a loved one’s disappearance is not easy.”
When questioned on Rilwan’s disappearance last year, Yameen said: “No, I have no comment on that. A reporter has gone missing. I think the search for him will proceed right? God willing, the search will be successful.”
The case 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.
Rilwan’s family and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party have meanwhile called for an independent inquiry.
Home Minister Umar Naseer in November revealed that former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, detained on suspicion of links to an explosion on the president’s speedboat, is being questioned over Rilwan’s disappearance.
The latest update from the police came in July: the police said that there was no evidence linking Rilwan’s disappearance to the abduction reported outside his apartment on the night of his disappearance.
The police said they have received DNA analysis of samples taken from three cars suspected to have been used in the abduction, but could not “conclusively state” that there was a connection between the incident and Rilwan’s disappearance.
Four suspects had been arrested in September last year and one suspect was held in police custody for five weeks. He was released after a period of house arrest.
One of the suspects was reportedly among a group of 12 Maldivian jihadis who traveled to Syria in January. The group also included Azlif Rauf, a suspect in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, who reportedly died while fighting in Syria in mid-May.
An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network had identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of the red car which may have been used in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.
The report implicated radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance and confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of the Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang led by the Rauf brothers.
Home Minister Naseer had also also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.
A petition with 5,500 signatures calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to the parliament last year, but remains stalled at a pro-government-majority committee.