More than 500 days after his unexplained disappearance, President Abdulla Yameen has asked the home minister to “do everything the government can” to find missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
The home ministry said in a tweet last Thursday that the president’s appeal came after Rilwan’s family sent a letter to Yameen urging him to expedite the investigation.
Rilwan’s family and friends delivered 500 origami cranes to the president’s office last week.
The 29-year old The Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News) journalist was last seen on August 8, 2014 boarding a midnight ferry to Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé. He is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building.
Rilwan’s sister said the family submitted the letter along with 500 paper cranes “asking for [the president’s] urgent intervention.” She noted that Yameen had refused to either comment on Rilwan’s disappearance or meet the family despite requests.
When questioned on Rilwan’s disappearance last year, Yameen had 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.
In the latest update on their investigation, the police said in July that there was no evidence linking Rilwan’s disappearance to an 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.