Two years ago today, Maldivians woke up to the horrific murder of Yameen Rasheed, a satirical blogger and fearless critic of religious extremism.
The 29-year-old’s killing attracted international media attention and drew widespread condemnation. Suspects were arrested within a week but Yameen’s grieving family despaired as police refused to accept a petition, blocked marches calling for answers, and the criminal court held hearings in secret.
The family’s hope for justice was rekindled in November.
On his first day in office, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih formed an inquiry commission to investigate unresolved murders, honouring a key campaign pledge.
“I have full faith that the commission will carry out its mandate and try their best,” Yameen’s sister Aisha Rasheed told the Maldives Independent.
“It is the only hope we have after a long time and it is what we are clinging on to.”
Last month, the commission’s chair Husnu Suood confirmed long-held suspicions about religious motives and the involvement of radicalised gangs. He told a CPJ researcher that the attempted murder of blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed in June 2012, the assassination of moderate religious scholar MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014, and Yameen’s murder were carried out by the same extremist group.
Appearing on Raajje TV Monday night, Suood said the commission has identified culprits and established the motive behind the murders.
– ‘Complete overhaul’ –
Yameen’s sister Aisha did not share Suood’s confidence in convicting the perpetrators.
“I do not have the same level of trust in the judiciary and we are in grave need of judicial reform because I don’t believe the judges have any sense of moral responsibility,” she said.
The family of abducted journalist Rilwan has also pinned their hopes on the presidential commission, agreeing with President Solih that lack of confidence in existing institutions required an independent inquiry.
“They did not do so much as answer a letter from the family,” Rilwan’s sister Fathmath Shehenaz told the Maldives Independent.
Shehenaz said she was in tears when the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party won a super-majority of parliament in the April 6 polls, reviving hope for passing a law to grant investigative authority to the presidential commission.
Speaker Gasim Ibrahim’s refusal to call a vote on the presidential commissions bill formed part of the MDP’s appeal for a majority without coalition partners.
“We the people gave the MDP power because we want them to ensure we get justice,” said Shehenaz.
“Because this means people who pledged justice have the means and are not allowed excuses. Now we actually can hope. However, if we want justice to the highest extent, the current speaker of the Majlis needs to be removed, the judges at all courts need to be replaced. The system needs a complete overhaul. Only then will we have a clear shot at justice.”
Last August, days before the fourth anniversary of Rilwan’s disappearance, two suspects were acquitted with the judge blaming glaring investigative and prosecutorial failures.
Yameen’s murder trial has yet to resume after the court concluded preliminary hearings in October. Prosecutor General’s office spokesman Ahmed Thaufeeq was unsure why the trial remains stalled.
The presidential commission has asked the Supreme Court to speed up the trial, Suood told the Maldives Independent.
“We have provided the Supreme Court with a list of cases which needs to be expedited, specifically Yameen’s case. We said if these particular cases are left stalled it would hinder our work,” he explained.
“What we are trying to propose is to give two to three months of preparation time for prosecutors and everyone involved to prepare for the case. But once the case begins, it should be attempted to end within one or two days with continuous hearings. This leaves less time for any possibilities of judges being bribed, tampering or mishaps with evidence and witnesses.”
The commission will make its findings public, he assured.
“The report will be published once arrests have been made and after we have briefed the president, police and the military and other relevant authorities, explaining to them who is responsible, and what needs to be done about them which I think is most effective,” he said.
Organised by friends and family to mark the second anniversary of Yameen’s murder, a protest march is meanwhile due to take place at 4:30pm on Tuesday, starting from the Rasfannu beach in Malé’s western end.
Yameen’s sister anticipated a hostile reaction from opposition politicians and religious hardliners.
“I think they will take it very badly. For example, even though the religion card is becoming irrelevant as people are more intent on finding justice and a just society, they are still clinging on to it,” Aisha said.
“The difference now is that instead of worrying about what to do when police officers come to obstruct our marches, we are free to use our constitutional right and we can ask the police to provide security as we fear there are other elements, both opposition politicians and religious extremists, that are actively still trying to discredit what Yameen and Rilwan stood for, fought for and left behind, even after taking Yameen’s life.”