The police have revealed the identities of three young men accused of killing liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed on April 23.
Of the seven suspects in custody, Ismail Rasheed, 25, Ismail Haisham Rasheed, 21, and Ahmed Zihan Ismail, 22, have been identified as the prime suspects who committed the murder, the police said in a statement Sunday night.
Ismail Rasheed has a criminal record for gang violence and Haisham Rasheed served a prison sentence on a charge of robbery using a dangerous weapon.
The police said investigators analysed more than 1,850 hours of CCTV footage and 40,000 photographs of individuals aged between 20 and 40 to locate the suspects. The police also used government databases and sought advice from foreign and local experts.
“The investigation team has also identified the suspects behind the planning and execution of the attack and is pursuing further investigation,” the police said.
The investigators also faced obstacles due to individuals “spreading misleading information in the local and social media” as well as “massive interferences in the investigation process by lawyers and other parties”.
A lawyer representing one of the suspects was briefly detained on charges of obstructing the investigation.
The police assured the public that Yameen Rasheed’s murder suspects have been identified with “substantial evidence for prosecution,” adding that the police are “coordinating with the Prosecutor General’s office to forward the case for prosecution and to start judicial proceedings in the coming days.”
The police will fulfil the institution’s duty to protect and serve “without responding to baseless rumours, criticism or reprove,” it added.
Yameen’s family have welcomed the police statement but cast doubt on whether the three young men acted alone.
“This was planned for many days and people spent money to carry it out. The motive and purpose of these youth for killing Yameen is not clear to us. We urge the police to reveal the purpose,” the family said in a statement Monday afternoon.
The family also urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to protect Maldivian society from extremist ideologies.
In the past six weeks, Yameen’s family repeatedly called for foreign involvement in the murder probe, questioning the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation due to the failure to investigate numerous death threats or arrest suspects in the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan and the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.
Like Yameen, both Rilwan and Hilath were prominent liberal voices against radicalisation and extremism.
Last week, Yameen’s father Hussain Rasheed told the UN Human Rights Council that his son was killed for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
In a statement delivered at the council’s 35th session in Geneva, Rasheed said the police’s refusal to investigate Rilwan’s abduction “shows that the government is actively protecting the perpetrators”.
The police initially denied any link between Rilwan’s disappearance in August 2014 and a reported abduction outside his apartment building. But in April last year, the police said he was forced into a car that belonged to a notorious gangster. By then, a prime suspect caught tailing Rilwan on security camera footage had left the country.
“Yameen was relentless in the fight to find justice for his friend, and now his voice has been silenced too,” Rasheed continued, referring to his son’s activism in the cause to seek justice for the missing journalist.
“International monitoring of investigations into my son’s death is imperative. I believe that only active international engagement looking into attacks on freedom of expression in Maldives could provide justice for my beloved son and others like him.”
Yameen’s family have also sued the police over the failure to protect him despite numerous death threats reported since 2014. Last month, the family petitioned the UN human rights chief to press the Maldivian authorities to allow an independent investigation led by an international group.
The 29-year-old satirist and IT professional was found with 35 stab wounds in the stairwell of his apartment building in the early hours of April 23.
Suspects were arrested a week later and the police said on May 15 that two men whose photos were released to the public were among seven suspects in custody in connection with the murder.
The pair was caught on security camera footage “entering and exiting the scene of the crime after brutally stabbing Mr Yameen Rasheed,” the police said then.
The police statement Sunday night meanwhile prompted calls on social media for the police to reveal the motive for the murder.
Thank you @policemv. Hope you will soon be able to let the people know why they killed Yaamyn Rasheed. Who ordered it and funded.
— Hamid Shafeeu (@shafeeu) June 18, 2017
Could you please establish a motive now? #weareyaamyn
— Noosh 🎈❓ (@NooshinWaheed) June 18, 2017
Thank you. Now please establish motive and reveal who was behind the murder of Yameen Rasheed. Please do the right thing.
— umay mohamed 🎈 (@umaymohamed) June 18, 2017
No significant information on case in statement , rather @PoliceMv rants for public questioning in lack of inaction on the case.
— Mohamed Rageeb (@mohraqeeb) June 19, 2017