“Two years since Yameen was murdered
(We) won’t let it go!
Four years since Rilwan was abducted
(We) won’t let it go!”
The hectic traffic of Malé City was interrupted by these defiant chants Tuesday evening as about 200 people marched across the capital’s main thoroughfare to mark two years since the brutal murder of Yameen Rasheed, a blogger and human rights defender who fought relentlessly to seek answers for his abducted friend Ahmed Rilwan.
Previous marches after the journalist went missing in August 2014 saw his family members arrested, pepper sprayed and sacked from their jobs. This year, amid renewed hope for answers, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih marched in solidarity with the parents of Yameen and Rilwan.
After walking the length of Majeedhee Magu to the eastern artificial beach, Yameen’s father and Rilwan’s mother addressed the president directly with appeals for justice. Others spoke about hate speech, tolerance and pluralism.
Rilwan’s sister Fathimath Shehenaz consoled their mother Aminath Easa as she broke down in tears after pleading with the president:
My child was taken away, abducted. Who took him away? What did he do to be taken away?
He went out that night after I fed him. I told him don’t stay out too late, go home early. But somebody took him. Find those people! I’m begging you, find out what happened to my son.
Even if he’s dead… people tell me don’t burden yourself, he’s dead, he’s been murdered. I don’t listen to them, we should know if he’s murdered, we should be told. Even if [he was murdered], what about the people who funded it, the people who spent money to take him away?
He was a good boy, he was disciplined, he never spoke in anger, he was good, he was a good child, good to his friends, he was good. But what misery we are going through?
I am begging you president, bring us justice. I’ve been telling everyone, the past president, and now… I’m begging you, get us justice.
Yameen’s father Hussain Rasheed urged the president to take action against hate speech:
A group of people said a lot of things to tarnish [Yameen’s] name, put the “irreligious” tag on him. But he was a Maldivian child who loved religions and fought for equality for all. It’s a big loss from the Maldivian youth and to the country that he is gone
A group of people are spreading hatred in the name of religion. It is a duty for all Maldivians to find out the reality of it. Everyone should have the right to live.
It would be a huge mistake to let people spread hate in our small community. We have to work against it in our schools and community. We have to stay away from hatred and violence.
I call on the parliament to give powers to the presidential commission and pass a law for the commission to do its work.
I call on the president and heads of institutions to not give a chance for people to spread hate, to pave the way for our community to be protected from hate and violence.
I call on the people. This is not just about Yameen or Rilwan. Many have been killed and may are without justice. Let’s all work together to save the community by making ourselves aware. Today it is us crying, but tomorrow it might be many other parents. We can only save us by bringing the whole community together and working together.
I ask all parents to not be influenced by those spreading hatred in our community especially with the irreligious tag, to try and build friendship and solidarity among everyone.
Ali Sulaiman, a senior journalist at Villa TV:
It is a telling sign that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took part in the march today.
When we began searching for Rilwan, none of us knew when it would end, who would help. The day we went to parliament, to the Police Integrity Commission, and every day we marched since then, the day police pepper sprayed Rilwan’s mother – so many things over these days, we never imagined we would be here today.
But the fact we were able to march peacefully today and president marched with us renews hope that we can get justice. I hope that the people who carried out this attack on maldivian journalism would be brought to justice.
We may not get Rilwan back, we may not get Yameen back, but we can make sure it does not happen to anyone else.
The biggest problem facing our society is hate speech. We have to stop it. As a journalist, I believe journalism isn’t writing whatever comes to mind. Journalists have to be responsible and stop this spirit of spreading hatred. We have to stop putting people’s lives in danger by labelling them irreligious.
Humaida Gafoor, civil society member:
Couple of years ago we saw a president who said “no comment” when Rilwan was abducted. Now we have a president who supports what we are doing.
Because of how this has changed, I’d say our society has courage. We saw a parliament that threw out a 5,000-signature strong petition. The outgoing parliament was very negligent in Yameen’s murder and Rilwan’s abduction. I hope that the 19th Majlis will get us justice.
We saw an incompetent courthouse holding the hearings of Yameen Rasheed’s murder in secret. I don’t believe that this is right. We don’t have a courthouse that responds when we knock on their door seeking justice.
But we have courage, we can do this, we will see a day that’s not this way.
Imthiyaz Fahmy, MP:
Yameen Rasheed worked relentlessly to seek justice for his friend’s abduction without pause. Does this not affect you, does that not make your cry? Next we saw this young man talking about the human rights abuses in jail while he was under arrest.
Yameen Rasheed was a young man who worked sincerely to fight for justice and rights, giving his life for it.
What a brutal manner these two young men were taken from us. We cannot forgive this. The entire state has failed to ensure justice, the entire state. I thank and commend the president for making a presidential commission to seek justice for this.
I assure these families that I will do everything in parliament to find justice and dig to the very bottom of what happened.
Aiman Rasheed, Transparency Maldives:
Since we were little, we were told that Maldivians are a united people, a homogenous people with the same language, same culture and same religion.
But there’s something we don’t say. We don’t say that humans have differing opinions, that among humans there are people of different gender, color, the poor, the wealthy, people from different atolls and different kinds of people. That being diverse is a richness of our humanity. This is something we weren’t told or taught. In our society, we use the differences in people to make fun of them and demean their humanity.
As long as our differences don’t lead to conflicts and hate, we must look at this diversity as a richness of our humanity. The richness isn’t in forcing everyone to eat the same thing and wear the same thing or speak and act the same way. This diversity must be celebrated. It’s a richness of our humanity.
That richness was taken away the day we lost Rilwan. This richness was taken away on the day Yameen was murdered, on the day Dr Afrasheem was murdered. Everyday all these people and many more are without justice are days we lose the richness of our diversity. It’s our humanity that’s being taken away.
The idea that we are entirely the same, the same language, same religion, we look the same, this is not entirely true. There are differences among humans, and we should not fear these differences, that is not a reason for us to stab each other, slay each other, we should make room for these differences as long as it does not create conflict and hate.
Even if there are differences, you don’t have to kill people, stab people, threaten people put them in a red car and abduct them, you don’t have to cut them to pieces, you don’t have to stab them 37 times, we have to stop this. Maldivians must learn there are people of different kinds of people with different opinion and thinking. There are dark skinned and fair skinned people, there are people who settled here from all over the world. They are all a part of our shared rich diverse humanity. We have to accept this and teach them in our schools and communities.
Photos by Aiman Rasheed