Two suspects in the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan were transferred to a remand facility on Thursday, days after the criminal court moved the pair to house imprisonment.
The Prosecutor General’s Office had appealed the criminal court’s ruling at the High Court and won an order on April 28 to keep Aalif Rauf, 29 years, and Mohamed Nooradheen, 31 years, under state custody.
Aalif and Nooradheen were first arrested on April 5, and had been transferred to house imprisonment on April 22, despite objections by the police.
Their arrest followed the police’s admission that Rilwan was abducted from outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé on August 8, 2014. A red car owned by Aalif is suspected to have been used in the abduction, police said.
DNA samples lifted from the trunk of Aalif’s car matched that of Rilwan’s mother’s DNA, the police said.
Soon after Rilwan’s disappearance was reported, his neighbors said they had witnessed a man being forced into a car at knifepoint outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé. The police had previously insisted that DNA analysis was insufficient to link the August 8 abduction with Rilwan’s disappearance.
Rilwan’s family has accused the police of negligence, questioning why officers had failed to investigate the abduction when it was first reported, but police said officers on duty that night had done all they could.
Aalif and Nooradheen were arrested on suspicion of links to the abduction and alleged attempts to tamper with evidence.
Earlier this month, police confirmed that several young men with the Kuda Henveiru gang – led by Aalif – had tailed Rilwan for over two hours on the night he went missing. The chief suspect, Mohamed Suaid, was arrested in September of 2014, but was released by the criminal court a few weeks later.
Suaid left the Maldives in January 2015 with Aalif’s brother Azlif Rauf, a former soldier who was arrested over the 2012 brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali. Azlif was never charged over the killing.
Suaid and Azlif’s family say the pair died in battle in the Syrian civil war last year, but the claim has been disputed by opposition politicians.
Human rights NGO, the Maldivian Democracy Network, had published a comprehensive report into the journalist’s disappearance in September 2014, detailing the involvement of Kuda Henveiru gang, but the police dismissed the report as politically motivated at the time.
Days after the report’s release, a machete was lodged in the front door of The Maldives Independent’s (formerly Minivan News) offices. The suspect was released by the criminal court.
Rilwan’s abduction 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.