Two “potential suspects involved in the murder” of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed have been arrested, the police said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the victim’s family sued the police for negligence.
“Through this arrest and several leads uncovered by the investigation team, the Maldives Police Service is confident that the investigation into this case can be concluded successfully in the coming days,” the police said.
The police are also “working closely with international partners and laboratories in European and ASEAN states to analyse the physical and digital evidence collected in the case.”
The statement went on to urge the public to “please refrain from taking any action to change the focus of the investigation or spreading false information that many conflict with serving justice for Mr Yameen Rasheed and his family.”
It added that such actions “may lead to the compromise of crucial information for the investigation and allow the perpetrators involved in this crime to evade police arrest.”
The police have been under fire for failure to make any arrests after claiming to have identified two suspects from security camera footage. It is unclear if the two suspects in custody are the two men whose photos the police revealed last week.
The first suspect, who was arrested Monday morning, lived near Yameen’s home and was reportedly tailing him on the night of the murder. According to local media, the second suspect works at a government-owned company. He was arrested Tuesday night.
The statement confirming the arrests came hours after Yameen’s father and the family’s lawyer briefed the press about a case filed at the civil court over the police’s failure to protect Yameen and investigate numerous death threats.
Husnu Suood, a former attorney general, said Yameen had filed separate complaints in 2010, 2014 and most recently in late December 2016.
“So we are filing this case to prove that this happened because of police negligence. We believe that his murder could have been prevented, had the police fulfilled their responsibility,” he said.
The police spokesman, Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Suood also accused the police of disrespecting and ridiculing Yameen’s father on Tuesday when he was handed back more than 800 letters calling for an impartial and credible investigation.
The police refused to accept the petitions and informed Yameen’s father Hussain Rasheed that each letter must be submitted by the individual who signed it. He was also told that the police need to know a return address.
“A police officer called Hassan Hameed said that they do not see that this is something that the Maldivian people need to be so concerned about,” Suood said.
“I believe that an independent institution, whose purpose is to maintain peace, treating a Maldivian citizen in that manner, is a reason for losing faith in the institution,” he added.
The officer continued to mock and smile smugly at the grieving father, he continued, and repeatedly questioned the purpose of the letters. He also suggested that the letter could contain a warning.
The police spokesman denied Suood’s allegations.
“I do not believe that this could happen. Everyone who comes to the police is treated with respect,” Shifan said.
Suood went on to say that Yameen’s murder should be investigated impartially regardless of the personal opinion of individual officers.
“There are 3000 people within the police. So it is possible that some of them may not like Yameen Rasheed. There will be people with different ideologies and those who support different people, there will be opinions amongst the police too,” he said.
“However, the face that they show to the public, how they interact with citizens. The heads of the institution have to make sure that the force as a whole is impartial and for the safety and protection of everyone. As an institution, they have to maintain their purpose, maintain the reason for the existence of the institution,”
He reiterated the family’s call for an independent investigation with the involvement of foreign agencies or experts.
“There are countries that can and will help. Unless this carried out with their involvement we believe that Yameen Rasheed will not receive justice,” he said.
Echoing the call, Yameen’s father Rasheed told the press that he wants his son’s murder to be investigated by an independent team of investigators.
“My focus is for people like that to be arrested, and for them to be given the punishments stated in the law and for this society to be peaceful. I do not want my son’s case to be buried and forgotten,” he said.
On Friday, Rasheed sought help from diplomats and international organisations in Sri Lanka to pressure the Maldivian government to carry out an independent investigation with foreign involvement.
Rasheed told reporters in Colombo that the police had acted suspiciously after the murder by washing the crime scene, repainting the blood-spattered wall, and preventing anyone from taking photographs.
The police also failed to seriously investigate several complaints Yameen had lodged about receiving death threats, he added.
His son was threatened by radicalised local gangs for speaking out against rising Islamic extremism, Rasheed said.
Yameen was the third liberal blogger or human rights defender to be targeted in the past five years. In June 2012, three men assaulted Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a former editor of newspaper Haveeru, and slashed his throat. He narrowly survived the murder attempt outside his door.
Despite the police claiming to have access to CCTV footage near Hilath’s home in the capital, no arrests were made.
In February, the family of missing Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News) journalist Ahmed Rilwan sued the police for refusing to disclose information about his abduction after more than 900 days.
The family previously accused the state of involvement in his disappearance, alleging police negligence in investigating the case.
The police initially denied any link between Rilwan’s disappearance in August 2014 and a reported abduction outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé.
But in a stark reversal in April last year, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said Rilwan was taken into a car that belonged to a notorious gangster.
A suspect who was arrested in November 2014 was seen trailing Rilwan on CCTV footage, Satheeh said, but he left the country after his release by the criminal court.