President Abdulla Yameen on Tuesday apologised for declaring abducted journalist Ahmed Rilwan dead, hours after media reports of the remarks caused an uproar.
“In the remarks about Rilwan, I didn’t decide at all whether he had died or not. I’m not the one who legally determines whether someone is dead, ok? The police will investigate that. My meaning was, my intention was, ‘what [Ahmed] Adeeb is saying is baseless,'” he said during a visit to Faresmaathoda in a campaign tour of Gaaf Dhaal atoll.
“With God’s grace, God willing Rilwan won’t die, and we can find him as well.”
Yameen said his remarks on the island of Madaveli earlier Tuesday were aimed at his jailed former vice president’s claim that the president had “overruled” his efforts within the cabinet to find the missing journalist.
The Maldives Independent has seen chatlogs from a cabinet Viber group from August 22, 2014 – two weeks after Rilwan was abducted – in which Yameen told home minister Umar Naseer that there was “no need to be overwhelmed by Rilwan’s case.”
Naseer replied, “Ok, noted sir.”
Yameen’s message came after Naseer said in the group that the suspected abduction was “one of the high priority cases now” and that the military had joined the search.
He was responding to foreign minister Dunya Maumoon, who informed the group that a statement had been issued “as UN and others are raising concerns.”
The exchange between Yameen and Naseer was featured in a 2016 corruption exposé by Al Jazeera, which was based on evidence gathered from Adeeb’s mobile phones.
When the award-winning documentary was released, Naseer denied receiving such a “text message” from the president.
The president previously refused to comment on Rilwan’s disappearance or to meet his family.
After nearly two years of denying any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction reported outside his building, police said in April 2016 that he was indeed forced into a car at knife-point.
Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh told the press that Rilwan was tailed for more than two hours by several young men from Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang, one of whom was identified as Mohamed Suaid in security camera footage shown at the press briefing.
Despite waiting nearly two years to confirm the hostile surveillance, the Maldives Independent has learned that police knew Rilwan was followed before his abduction on August 8, 2014 by Suaid, who was allowed to leave the country after his release from custody in November 2014.
Suaid, who was charged in absentia three years later, left the country in January 2015 with Azlif Rauf, a former soldier charged in connection with the murder of moderate religious scholar Afrasheem Ali.
Their families say the pair died fighting in Syria.
Terrorism charges over Rilwan’s abduction were raised in August last year against Suaid along with Azlif’s brother Alif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen.
Alif and Nooradeen were acquitted by the criminal court last Thursday, with the judge exposing glaring investigative and prosecution failures.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Maldives Independent after he resigned as home minister, Naseer also denied linking the president to MP Afrasheem’s murder despite previously saying that he had seen a suspect waiting in the ruling party office to meet Yameen.
Suspicion was cast on Yameen’s “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.”