Local human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has condemned the Maldives Police Service “in the strongest terms” for obstructing a memorial march held yesterday to mark one year after Minivan News journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, went missing.
Rilwan was last seen on CCTV footage entering the ferry terminal in Malé around 12:45am on August 8, 2014 and is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé.
MDN noted in a press statement today that the march was “a silent demonstration, with placards that only had an image of a question mark on it, depicting unanswered questions in the search for Rilwan and what happened to him and that it is a fundamental and Constitutional right in the Maldives.”
Police officers obstructed the rally by “trying to forcefully confiscate the banner that the family held, penetrate the peaceful march three times, which could have easily provoked the demonstrators,” the MDN said.
“Riot police manhandled family members and friends of Rilwan, used pepper spray at disproportionately close range, directly into the eyes of demonstrators and also arrested a member of Rilwan’s family who was later released.”
MDN also noted that all the women in Rilwan’s family at the march were pepper sprayed, manhandled and one was shoved to the ground, adding that there were no female police officers.
Rilwan’s family notified the police of the march one month in advance, MDN noted, but the police summoned family members a day before the walk and instructed them not to hold the march as planned.
“The police claimed that the march may obstruct the traffic. The police also informed Rilwan’s family that a special permission from the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure was required for the rally, when the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Law clearly states that organisers of assemblies do no require a permission to hold a rally,” the MDN said.
“We note with regret that none of the independent state bodies such as the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives or the Police Integrity Commission attempted to intervene and protect the demonstrators or stop unlawful actions by the police.”
The march ended near the artificial beach stage on the eastern end of Majeedhee Magu with speeches by Rilwan’s family and colleagues and a prayer for his safe return.
Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Eva Abdulla along with Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ali Hussain as well as journalists from various media outlets joined the march.
A petition with 5,500 signatures calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to the parliament last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee.
Rilwan’s family has also submitted a petition with the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in September last year.