Almost four years since the disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan, the criminal court has found two suspects not guilty of abducting the Maldives Independent journalist, blaming negligence by the police and prosecution.
“How could they? After taking all the witness testimony from the family and anonymous witnesses,” Rilwan’s sister Fathmath Shehenaz told the Maldives Independent after the verdict was delivered Thursday morning.
“We never really expected a conviction, we knew we wouldn’t get justice. But we cooperated with the authorities because we didn’t want them to be able to say we did not and blame us.”
The suspects, Alif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen, were accused of forcing Rilwan into a car at knife-point outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé on August 8, 2014. Both were arrested shortly after his disappearance, but freed two months later.
They remained free for the duration of the trial.
After nearly two years of denying any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction reported outside his building, police said in April 2016 that he was indeed forced into a car at knife-point.
– Negligence –
Delivering the verdict, Judge Adam Arif reprimanded the police and prosecution for failure to conduct a thorough investigation into what he called a “dangerous atrocity that seemed to have been conducted by a network of several people.”
The failure to follow crucial leads showed negligence and carelessness by police investigators, he said.
The prosecution’s case was primarily based on DNA from a hair found inside the red car alleged to have been used in the abduction. The DNA matched that of Rilwan’s found in a toothbrush inside his apartment and his mother’s DNA.
But the judge said prosecutors failed to submit a chain of custody report on the key forensic evidence.
In February, the court heard from Rilwan’s neighbours, who saw a man being forced into a red car that sped off with its back door open.
Judge Arif stressed that none of the witnesses was able to identify the defendants. Police did not use photo lineups to establish if the suspects were at the scene or to confirm the identity of the victim, he noted.
One of the witnesses told the court that he had called the police after he found a knife left on the ground.
A policeman who was on duty at Hulhumalé station testified that the knife was taken by forensic officers as police searched for a red car.
But the court heard nothing about the knife and the prosecution failed to submit forensic analysis.
The judge also noted that police failed to check security camera footage of the Palm Boutique Hotel in Hulhumalé, where the car was always parked.
This was despite witnesses asking the police repeatedly to check the footage.
The judge went on to note the prosecution’s failure to establish whether Rilwan’s mother Aiminath Easa had any siblings or grandchildren, which called into question the origin of the hair found in the car.
Analysts were only able to trace mitochondrial DNA on the hair, a strain of DNA that can be traced from a mother to all her children and to her grandchildren through daughters.
Rilwan’s mother and siblings were named as witnesses to prove they were never inside the red car. But the defence raised doubts about Easa’s siblings, grandchildren, or grand-nieces.
The court could not decide that Rilwan was abducted in the red car based on the hair DNA, Arif said.
In his closing arguments last month, defence lawyer Noorusalam Abubakuru had also stressed that none of the witnesses was able to identify his clients.
Alif had retracted a written statement that he gave to police admitting ownership of the red car.
“My client has never denied taking his car to Hulhumalé,” said Noorusalam. “This is not illegal. But the state has not produced any evidence to prove the ownership of the red car in question.
“The least they could have done is produce the ownership registry.”
It's a very sad day for our family. It's a very sad day for our nation. Suspects of #Findmoyameehaa case are free. To abduct another citizen. Police negligence and the governments involvement in this crime is clear. This is not the end. We will keep fighting.
— Shehenaz Adnan (@AdnanShehenaz) August 2, 2018
Saddened and infuriated by the latest injustice perpetrated by the state against Rilwan. Today’s criminal court sentence comes as no surprise in a case without a credible investigation or trial. A transparent investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance must be conducted.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) August 2, 2018
After 4 yrs of the entire state colluding in this travesty of justice, the Court frees all of the accused.
The President, Police, HRCM, Judiciary, PG, Parliament are all complicit in this; they must be held accountable.
— Eva Abdulla 🎈❓ (@evattey) August 2, 2018
Photo from Raajje.mv