The Maldives police say they have established links between the disappearance of The Maldives Independent reporter Ahmed Rilwan and an abduction reported outside his apartment on August 8, 2014, some 600 days ago.
Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh confirmed today allegations made by human rights NGO, the Maldivian Democracy Network, in a 2014 comprehensive report into Rilwan’s disappearance, and said that members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang had followed Rilwan for over two hours on the night he went missing.
The police now believe Rilwan was abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment and taken into a red car that belongs to Aalif Rauf, a senior member of Kuda Henveiru, Satheeh said.
DNA analysis of hairs lifted from the trunk of Aalif’s car matched that of Rilwan’s mother, Satheeh said.
The admission marks a stark reversal as the police had previously insisted that DNA analysis was insufficient to link the August 8 abduction with Rilwan’s disappearance.
Satheeh said Rilwan’s abduction was planned well in advance, but declined to comment on whether politicians were involved in the act.
The chief inspector revealed that the car used in the abduction was transported illegally to Hulhumalé on August 1 and brought back to Malé in mid-August that year.
He also identified one of the men caught trailing Rilwan on CCTV footage as Mohamed Suaid, 18 years. He was arrested but released by the criminal court in November 2014, and has since left the country since.
According to local media, Suaid left the Maldives for Syria in early January with Aalif’s brother Azleef Rauf, who is also a suspect in the 2012 brutal murder of a parliamentarian. The pair are reported to have died in battle, but Satheeh said the police are not able to confirm this.
Aalif was never arrested over Rilwan’s disappearance, Satheeh said, but added that the police may re-arrest suspects in light of new evidence.
The police are also looking into an attempt at forging Rilwan’s passport last March “to make it appear as if he had left or was out of the country,” Satheeh said. At the time, several pro-government websites, citing a blog that later turned out to be fake, had reported that Rilwan had died in battle in Syria.
When asked why it had taken the police over 600 days to reveal information already detailed in Maldivian Democracy Network’s report, Satheeh said: “The police will decide when and how and how much information we will reveal to the public.”
The police had labeled MDN’s report politically motivated at the time, and claimed Rilwan’s family was being subject to political influence in their campaign to find him.
Days after the report’s release, a machete was lodged in the front door of The Maldives Independent’s offices. This paper was formerly known as Minivan News.
Satheeh went on to deflect questions over police conduct on the night of the disappearance, saying officers on duty had done all they could.
He said that the police were not able to collect clues from the knife that was dropped after the abduction, and added that the police officers on duty had followed up on the report by searching red cars in Hulhumalé that night.
Aalif’s car was found locked and parked near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal, and police officers left the car after noting down its license plate, he said.
In January, President Abdulla Yameen broke his silence on Rilwan’s disappearance and requested the home minister to “do everything the government can” to find him.
When questioned on Rilwan’s case in 2014, 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.
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, had been questioned over Rilwan’s disappearance.
Rilwan’s family has asked oversight bodies, the National Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, for help in pressuring the police for an independent inquiry.
Members of Rilwan’s family were pepper sprayed at a silent march commemorating the anniversary of his disappearance.