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Cleric summoned to police over murder coverup claims

Sheikh Ilyas Hussain claimed nine people were killed to cover up the murder of MP Afrasheem.



Police have summoned Sheikh Ilyas Hussain for questioning over “dangerous” claims that nine people have been killed to cover up the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

Briefing the press Wednesday, Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said no such information was shared during the investigation or brought to police attention since then, accusing the religious scholar of trying to sow discord, create fear and cause loss of public confidence in the police.

Sheikh Ilyas made the claim “to serve personal and political purposes” and to influence the September 23 presidential election, the police spokesman said.

He questioned why Ilyas failed to alert the police during the past six years, “either officially or unofficially.”

The sheikh has been asked to appear for questioning at the police headquarters, he added.

Ilyas, however, departed for Malaysia earlier on Wednesday. According to the Adhaalath Party, the trip to visit family was planned before the police summons. It is unclear when he is due to return.

Shifan warned of the “harshest legal action” against those who make slanderous or false allegations about police investigations.

The police spokesman did not take any questions from reporters.

Ilyas, a popular preacher and president of the Adhaalath Party’s council of scholars, spoke about Dr Afrasheem’s murder at an opposition coalition rally Saturday night in Addu City.

Citing claims he had seen on social media about nine youth who were connected to Afrasheem’s murder and killed thereafter, Ilyas questioned why police were not investigating them. “Another day will come. You will be questioned [in the afterlife],” he said.

Ilyas’s speech drew an angry response from ruling party leaders, with MP Ahmed Nihan calling on police last Sunday “to take him into police custody to clarify these claims.”

The president’s running mate Dr Mohamed Shaheem also hit back at his former Adhaalath Party colleague on the campaign trail.

The attacks prompted other clerics from the opposition party to come to Ilyas’s defence, with Sheikh Mohamed Iyaz calling any action against Ilyas “an attack against Islam, and against everyone working to uphold Islamic dawah in the Maldives.”

Speaking at a second opposition rally Monday night, Ilyas claimed he has been offered bribes to switch sides and threatened with “the same fate as Dr Afrasheem”.

– Afrasheem murder –

Afrasheem, an MP of the Progressive Party of the Maldives and a moderate religious scholar, was stabbed to death at the stairwell of his home on the night of October 1, 2012.

He was known for taking relatively liberal positions on some religious issues, which had prompted criticism from other clerics. Appearing on a TV talk show on the night of his death, Afrasheem had apologised for “misunderstandings” over some of his views.

Police claimed the killing was politically motivated but no charges have been raised over the alleged funding. Hussain Humam, a young man charged over the murder, is the only person convicted so far.

In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld Humam’s death sentence after rejecting a surprise attempt by members of the MP’s family to delay the death penalty.

After the brutal murder, suspicion was cast upon the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, religious extremists and President Abdulla  Yameen.

In May 2013, Yameen threatened to prosecute Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who had said the president and tourism minister would know the truth behind the murder.

Suspicion was initially cast on Yameen after his rival in the PPM’s 2013 presidential primary claimed that he had seen a suspect waiting in the party office to meet Yameen.

But in an interview with the Maldives Independent after he resigned as Yameen’s home minister, Umar Naseer said there was no link between the president and Dr Afrasheem’s murder.

Yameen was suspected “because the gang that killed Afrasheem had some friends of Yameen. That’s what it is. Unfortunately, Yameen was invited to the opening of a futsal ground. The gang members were there on the ground in the opening ceremony.”