Three UN human rights experts have called on the authorities to carry out a thorough and independent public inquiry into the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed on April 23.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Special Rapporteurs observed that Yameen’s unsolved murder was “the latest in a series of attacks against journalists and human rights defenders expressing liberal views.”
The murder occurred “against a backdrop of rising religious intolerance in the Maldives and reports suggest that most of the attacks have gone unpunished,” it added.
The statement came from Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and former foreign minister of Maldives, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“We consider it imperative that the authorities take seriously their obligation to promote a free and safe space for all forms of expression,” they stressed.
“It is the government’s responsibility to take active steps in law and practice to promote tolerance.”
The popular blogger was a vocal critic of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration and the police failed to protect him despite reports of numerous death threats, the statement noted.
“He was also at the forefront of a campaign calling for accountability over the disappearance of another journalist and human rights defender, Ahmed Rilwan, who was the subject of an urgent appeal by UN experts in 2014,” it added.
The experts recognised the arrest of two suspects by the police, who said Tuesday that four more suspects were taken into custody earlier this week.
“Nonetheless, in light of the extreme seriousness of the attack, we urge a thorough and independent public inquiry to take place bringing to bear all of the resources of law enforcement and focusing on his murder and the disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan,” the experts said.
The statement also took note of President Yameen saying at a ruling party event four days after the murder that “any speech that mocks Islam cannot be tolerated or protected under freedom of expression.”
The experts went on to call on the government to honour commitments to international standards and to revise controversial legislation introduced in August 2016 to re-criminalise defamation.
UN rights experts previously expressed concern about “using religion and social norms to restrict freedom of expression in ways that are incompatible with the obligations of the Maldives under international law.”
The killing of the 29-year-old writer and IT professional drew widespread condemnation both domestically and internationally. In late April, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly condemned the murder at a briefing in Geneva.
The police meanwhile came under fire for failure to make arrests a week after claiming to have identified two suspects from security camera footage. It is unclear if any of the suspects now in custody are the two men whose grainy photos were shared with the public.
Last week, Yameen’s family sued the police over the failure to protect him and investigate death threats.
The police also refused to accept 800 letters submitted by Yameen’s father calling for an independent and credible investigation with foreign experts. Hussain Rasheed, 54, was told that each letter must be submitted by the individual who signed it.
The letters were collected by Yameen’s family and friends as a petition to be submitted to Commissioner of Police Ahmed Areef and the People’s Majlis.
Rasheed previously told reporters in Colombo that the police had acted suspiciously after the murder by washing the crime scene, repainting the blood-spattered wall, and preventing anyone from taking photographs.
The police also failed to seriously investigate several complaints Yameen had lodged about receiving death threats, he added.
His son was threatened by radicalised local gangs for speaking out against rising Islamic extremism, Rasheed said.
Yameen was the third liberal blogger or human rights defender to be targeted in the past five years. In June 2012, three men assaulted Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a former editor of newspaper Haveeru, and slashed his throat. He narrowly survived the murder attempt outside his door.
Despite the police claiming to have access to CCTV footage near Hilath’s home in the capital, no arrests were made.
In February, the family of missing Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News) journalist Rilwan sued the police for refusing to disclose information about the abduction after more than 900 days.