Who is Yameen Rasheed?
Yameen Rasheed was a popular blogger and IT professional. He would have been 30 this month. A gifted writer and prolific social media user, he was admired for his witty political commentary and fearless criticism of religious extremism.
Despite numerous death threats, he was one of the few liberal Maldivians who eschewed anonymity online. Following the abduction of his close friend Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014, he led an unrelenting public campaign to find the missing journalist, undaunted by the apparent impunity for vigilante perpetrators.
Yameen was a beloved son and brother. He was an irreplaceable and empathetic friend to many. A soft-spoken young man who bought meals for the poor and volunteered with the local Red Crescent. Shortly before his death, he co-created an award-winning app to drive blood donations.
With Yameen’s murder on the stairwell of his home, Dr Azra Naseem wrote, “the troubled Maldives society was robbed of one of its rarest type of inhabitants: a thinking person, an individual who thought of the collective, who fought for the underdog and whose words were based on principles he lived by.”
Why was he murdered?
According to police, a group of seven radicalised young men believed he was a secularist who was guilty of insulting Islam. “They decided that it’s not something they will tolerate and that Yameen needed to be killed for that,” a senior police investigator told the press.
The police ruled out a political motive and claimed there was no evidence to suggest outside funding. The suspects were influenced by the sermons of “certain international scholars.”
After secret preliminary hearings, the state is yet to present evidence in open trial.
How did the government react?
The government condemned the murder and promised justice, calling him “a socially conscious, civic-minded, talented, creative, courageous and impassioned young soul – everything the youth of this nation should aspire to be and more.”
In public remarks, President Abdulla Yameen spoke about the limits of free expression. Hate messages and anti-Islamic speech or blasphemy could not be accepted in the Maldives, he declared.
What was the response from the public and the international community?
There was condemnation at home and abroad, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as friends and family remembered Yameen with vigils and gatherings at the artificial beach.
Three UN rights experts observed that the murder was “the latest in a series of attacks against journalists and human rights defenders expressing liberal views” and urged the authorities to “promote a free and safe space for all forms of expression.”
How has his murder changed the Maldives?
Yameen’s murder occurred amid rising religious intolerance. It renewed concern over conservative elements and incitement to violence against people branded as secular by hardliners and clerics.
It followed years of young Maldivians joining the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda-linked affiliates in Syria and Iraq.
Earlier this month, the government rolled out a new policy to deal with both apostasy and extremism, threatening expulsion from society, financial penalties, and even a prison sentence for Maldivians who renounce Islam.