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‘Terrorist group’ behind Rilwan’s abduction

Rilwan’s family said the state was failing to deliver justice.



A “terrorist group” behind the abduction of Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014 has been identified with sufficient evidence to prosecute, according to the presidential commission on deaths and disappearances.

The commission shared its latest findings with Rilwan’s family two weeks ago, chair Husnu Suood tweeted on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the Maldives Independent journalist’s disappearance.

Suood said the commission was considering revealing the details of the group before the end of August. Suood previously said the attempted murder of blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed in June 2012, the assassination of lawmaker Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, Rilwan’s abduction in August 2014, and the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed in April 2017 were all connected and carried out by an extremist group.

What happened to Rilwan after the abduction, is a subject still under investigation by [the commission], and it is trying to verify and corroborate the information that it has received,” he added.

“[The commission]  will deliver on its promise to find the truth in all cases under its investigation.”

The assurance came hours after Rilwan’s family released a press statement expressing concern with delays in providing answers as pledged when the current administration came to power.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih formed the inquiry commission on his first day in office in November.

More than eight months later, the state was “failing” to deliver justice, Rilwan’s family said, noting the failure to arrest suspects or prevent those complicit in a suspected cover-up from fleeing the country.

The family called for probes against “police who were negligent in investigating the case, members of the then-Police Integrity/National Integrity Commission who refused to take action, [and] the judge who released people suspected of abducting Rilwan.”

The family expressed concern in particular with Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Didi leaving the country. Didi, who was a criminal court judge at the time, was accused of releasing two suspects in November 2014 on the orders of then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

One of the suspects, Mohamed Suaid – who was arrested with security camera footage showing him tailing Rilwan – was allowed to leave 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 claim the pair died fighting in Syria

Terrorism charges over Rilwan’s abduction were filed against Suaid along with Azlif’s brother Alif Rauf  and Mohamed Nooradeen. They were acquitted in August 2017 with the judge blaming glaring investigative and prosecutorial failures.

– ‘Complicity or active involvement’ –

On Thursday, Rilwan’s family questioned the judge’s failure to order a fresh investigation.

The family previously said the not guilty verdict showed “at minimum state complicity and, at worst, active involvement in Rilwan’s abduction and disappearance.”

The Maldives Independent has seen chatlogs from a cabinet Viber group from August 22, 2014 – two weeks after Rilwan was abducted – in which former president Abdulla Yameen told home minister Umar Naseer that there was “no need to be overwhelmed by Rilwan’s case.” Naseer replied, “Ok, noted sir.”

After nearly two years of refusing to reveal information, police confirmed Rilwan’s abduction in April 2016. It came just weeks before a UN panel launched an inquiry.

Despite possessing evidence of hostile surveillance, police previously refused to say that Rilwan was abducted. They denied any link between an abduction at knife-point reported outside Rilwan’s apartment in Hulhumalé – seen by several eyewitnesses around the time he would have reached home – and his disappearance after Suaid followed him to the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé.

The police press briefing in April 2016 confirmed the findings of a private investigation commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network – which the authorities labelled as politically motivated at the time – that implicated radicalised gangs 45 days after the abduction.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June 2014 by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a “strong possibility.”

Days after the publication of the report, a machete was left on the front door of the Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News) office after a man named in the report removed the security camera.

He was clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage submitted to the police but was released by the criminal court hours later.

A Minivan News journalist received death threats shortly thereafter, which read, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”