The family of murdered liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed has petitioned the UN to press the Maldivian government to allow an independent investigation led by the office of the UN human rights chief or a reputable international organisation.
The appeal for urgent action was submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and four Special Rapporteurs on the family’s behalf by pro bono international counsel Jared Genser.
“It breaks my heart as an international human-rights lawyer whenever I am asked to assist after a brilliant life has been extinguished,” said Genser, who also represents former President Mohamed Nasheed
“But this is a solemn duty that is both an honour and an enormous responsibility to help bring to justice the perpetrators of Yameen Rasheed’s heinous murder.”
The 29-year-old writer and IT professional was found with 35 stab wounds in the stairwell of his apartment building in Malé in the early hours of April 23. His throat was slit and part of his skull was missing.
A week after claiming to have identified two suspects from security camera footage, the police have now arrested six suspects in connection with the murder. But it is unclear if any of the suspects are the two men whose grainy photos were shared with the public.
According to Yameen’s father, the police acted suspiciously after the murder by washing the crime scene, repainting the blood-spattered wall, and preventing anyone from taking photographs.
Last week, Yameen’s family sued the police over the failure to protect him and investigate numerous death threats.
Husnu Suood, a former attorney general representing Yameen’s family in the lawsuit, said: “Unfortunately, it is impossible to rely on the Maldivian police or government to conduct an effective and impartial investigation into this murder.
“We therefore urgently require meaningful international participation in the investigation to ensure that Yameen’s killers are brought to justice, and to bring an end the impunity that so often accompanies this sort of crime in the Maldives.”
On Tuesday, shortly after three UN rights experts called for a public inquiry into Yameen’s murder, the foreign ministry put out a statement reiterating the government and President Abdulla Yameen’s strong condemnation.
“The Government has mobilised all of its resources to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice,” it assured.
The police addressed two complaints filed by Yameen about receiving death threats, the foreign ministry claimed, adding that the human rights watchdog has launched an inquiry into the police response.
“The government of Maldives takes note of the interests that other governments and international agencies express on the case,” the statement continued, assuring that the police accords “utmost priority” to the case.
“The government also wishes to reiterate that the fundamental human rights of every citizen, as set out in the constitution of the Maldives, will be protected, and that the law enforcement authorities will always remain vigilant in protecting those rights.”
In his letter to the UN human rights chief, Genser said the investigation by the Maldivian police cannot be credible or sufficient because of “a pervasive culture of impunity for human rights violations”, the failure to solve other prominent cases involving bloggers and journalists, and the failure to protect Yameen after he reported death threats.
According to the family, incendiary comments left on Yameen’s blog in 2010 was traced to an IP address registered to the domain “police.gov.mv.”
Yameen reported death threats to the police in September 2014 and most recently on December 22, 2016 after an increase in the number of threatening messages online.
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.
No arrests were made despite the police claiming to have access to CCTV footage near Hilath’s home in the capital.
“Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists…We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” then-Youth Minister Mohamed Shareef, currently Maldivian ambassador to Japan, told AFP.
In February, the family of missing Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News) journalist Ahmed Rilwan sued the police for refusing to disclose information about the abduction after more than 900 days.
After initially denying any link between Rilwan’s disappearance in August 2014 and a reported abduction outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé, the police said in April last year that he was taken into a car that belonged to a notorious gangster.
“Given this background, questions must be raised as to whether any investigation by the [Maldives Police Service] could be regarded as credible,” Yameen’s family said.
“In the absence of a viable domestic investigation, there is an urgent need for the international community to apply all means of pressure necessary on the government to allow access for an independent international investigation.”
The family has also launched a fundraising drive to help finance advocacy efforts.
Hussain Rasheed, Yameen’s father, said: “Our lives are filled with grief and sadness each day now, and it is hard to believe that Yameen, who we love so deeply, is not with us. But my son stood for truth and justice, with all of his being.
“I know that in order to honour his memory and the principles he believed in — and risked his life for — we must stand up and fight for a full and transparent, independent international investigation of the heartless murder which has taken our son.”