Two suspects charged in connection with the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan three years ago appeared in court Wednesday for the first hearing of their terrorism trial.
Judge Adam Arif gave Aalif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen – who remain free unlike other terror defendants – ten days to hire lawyers.
The family of the third suspect, Mohamed Suaid, informed the court that he was dead, the chief judge said.
Suaid was among five suspects arrested in Rilwan’s case in September 2014. According to the police, he left for Syria after his release from custody.
The judge said he would decide how to proceed in Suaid’s case after clarifying his whereabouts with the immigration department
In April last year, after nearly two years of denying any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction outside his building, the police revealed evidence backing the inference that he was forced into a car at knifepoint as reported by neighbours in the early hours of August 8, 2014.
The red car belonged to Aalif and DNA from hairs lifted from its trunk matched Rilwan’s mother, the police revealed at the time, also showing footage of Suaid tailing the missing journalist before he was last seen entering the Hulhumalé ferry terminal.
They were charged last month under the 1990 anti-terrorism law with “the act or the intention of kidnapping or abduction of a person or of taking a hostage.” The charges were raised with reference to article 6(b) of the law, which prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years imprisonment or banishment for persons found guilty of terrorism “without the loss of life”.
The police press briefing on Rilwan’s abduction in April last year came after the case was referred to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. In its response to the rights panel a month later, the government strongly denied any responsibility or involvement.
The police meanwhile only confirmed the findings of a private investigation commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network that implicated radicalised gangs 45 days after the abduction. The MDN’s report was dismissed at the time as politically motivated.
More recently at the UN Human Rights Council, the Maldives delegation said Rilwan’s abduction “remains a priority case under investigation for the Maldivian authorities,” noting progress and challenges highlighted in its submission to the working group.
“The investigative teams in the Maldives continue to utilise every tool at its disposal to complete the investigation,” the diplomats assured at the council’s session earlier this month, without mentioning the terrorism charges raised on August 15.
“For the sake of his family, friends and our collective national conscience, answers are needed and the government is taking all possible steps to further accelerate the investigation.”
Last month, Rilwan’s nephew Ahmed Joozeen was sacked from his job as a civil support staff at the Maldives Police Service for joining a protest march to mark three years after the abduction, an annual memorial march that saw riot police pepper-spray Rilwan’s family and friends and snatch their banners and placards.
In February, Rilwan’s family filed a lawsuit against the police seeking “the available facts of the events” that followed his abduction because the police refused to disclose any information.
The family also 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.