The nephew of missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan and sister of murdered blogger Yameen Rasheed were sacked on Monday for joining a protest march to mark three years after Rilwan’s abduction.
Rilwan’s nephew Ahmed Joozeen and Yameen’s sister Aishath Rasheed were working as civil support staff at the Maldives Police Service. They were sacked after the police disciplinary board conducted hearings over their participation in an “unlawful protest”.
The August 8 march was deemed unlawful because the organisers were not granted permission by the police as required by the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act, which was revised in August last year to restrict protests and gatherings in the capital to areas designated by the home ministry.
Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, the police spokesman, confirmed the dismissals. “They still have the chance to revise it with the police appeals committee but as of now they have been fired,” he added.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent, Joozen said he told the disciplinary board that he was unaware the protest took place without written permission from the police.
“I also said that I did not have to be aware or responsible as I participated as an individual,” he said.
Joozen was angered about losing his job after four years but remained undecided about contesting the termination with the Employment Tribunal.
“It really upset me. Because they were firing me for attending a protest asking to find answers to what happened to my disappeared uncle,” he said.
Aisha also told the disciplinary board that she was unaware the march was unauthorised.
“They also said that they had warned me before also, which is not true. They also noted that the protest I had participated in was not even related to my brother,” she said.
“The police have been acting in a very hurried manner. So I believe the board’s judgement was already prepared, to fire me,” she added.
Aisha plans to submit her case to both the tribunal and police appeals committee.
“The protest in question was not a political one. Police officers need to understand that there is a difference between the police institution and an officer. Individual officers need to stop taking criticism of the police institution personally,” she said.
Yameen, a human rights defender and popular satirist, was spearheading the campaign to seek justice for Rilwan when he was brutally murdered on April 23 by a group of radicalised youth.
The police initially denied any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction reported by his neighbours, who saw a man being forced into a red car at knifepoint.
In a stark reversal in April last year, the police said Rilwan was taken into a car that belonged to a notorious gangster after several young men with the Kuda Henveiru gang tailed him for over two hours. The chief suspect, Mohamed Suaid, was detained for a few weeks in September 2014, but he left the country in January 2015.
The August 8 march was led by the family and friends of Rilwan, who planned to walk in the streets of Malé to mark three years since the unresolved abduction.
But Specialist Operations police officers blocked their path and cracked down with pepper spray, snatching banners, tearing up placards, and briefly detaining nine people.
Shahindha Ismail, the executive director of NGO Maldivian Democracy Network and the former chairwoman of the Police Integrity Commission, criticised the restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
“The revised Freedom of Assembly Act does not regulate the right but obstructs it. The constitution, however, states that we can peacefully demonstrate without prior notice. That right was simply exercised. The protesters did no harm to anyone,” she said.
“The gathering was not aimed against anyone. It was aimed at raising the questions that were raised three years ago, nothing else. Rilwan’s family and Yameen’s family are the ones who are going through this with the most pain.
“The police fired two people who were most specifically connected to the questions we raised. When law enforcement acts in this way it shows an inhuman attitude. While there are violations of the law happening all around the city the police institution focused on firing the two who protested peacefully.”
Photo from Munshid Mohamed