[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”108902″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship calls on the Maldivian authorities to step up their investigation and pursue the individuals behind the murders of the journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and blogger Yameen Rasheed.
“The government of the Maldives must do all it can to uncover and bring to justice all those responsible for the murders of Ahmed and Yameen. Their pursuit of truth in the public interest led to their murders at the hands of criminals bent on silencing their work,” Perla Hinojosa, Index Fellowships & Advocacy Officer, said.
Rilwan’s disappearance in 2014 shook the Maldives, when he was forced into a car at knifepoint outside his home on the island of Hulhumale and taken in a boat out to sea where he was killed, according to Husnu Suood, the head of a Maldives presidential commission set up to investigate the case. Suood said the people who murdered Rilwan, also murdered his friend Rasheed, who was leading a campaign to find Rilwan.
At the time of his abduction, Rilwan was reporting for the news website now known as the Maldives Independent, which was named the winner of an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship in journalism in 2017.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1567498421448-a2c7a885-6928-8″ taxonomies=”6534″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”89552″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_column_text]Following the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in April, journalism award-winner Maldives Independent has undergone a period of change and restructuring.
Former editor Zaheena Rasheed credits the award with increased press coverage outside of the Maldives. Most significantly, Rasheed told Index that the attention from the award convinced their sponsors to continue funding them.
After an Al Jazeera documentary containing interviews with Rasheed was released, the Maldives Independent’s office was attacked and raided by police in September 2016 and Rasheed had to flee for her safety. She has since taken a role at Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.
“The job has been very busy, but exciting, especially following a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbours,” Rasheed told Index.
In late April, Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and journalist, who had contributed opinion pieces in the Maldives Independent, was murdered. His death is still on the minds of those at Maldives Independent, which extensively covered the investigation into his murder.
“Yameen was a critical and brave voice who spoke out against injustice despite the crackdown on free speech. His murder has had a chilling effect on free speech in the Maldives and prompted many others to practice self-censorship. I believe he was targeted by religious extremists because of his advocacy for a more tolerant and secular society”, Rasheed said. No information has been released on the identities of the suspects in Rasheed’s murder or what charges they might face.
Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared in August 2014. Despite the international attention these incidents have received, Rasheed is not confident that they will affect the culture of impunity that exists around attacks on critics and freethinkers.
“The biggest concern, as evident by Yameen’s murder and Rilwan’s disappearance, is that there are groups who are willing to kill in the name of Islam. They enjoy impunity because they have the protection of state bodies. State officials support them for two reasons; they think supporting radical groups bolsters their legitimacy, or they also subscribe to these views” Rasheed said.
Rasheed identifies the Maldives Independent’s biggest challenge is securing consistent and sufficient funding, something which Maldives Independent is working on now. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1509444026808-19a50408-3e9b-3″ taxonomies=”9028, 4002, 9136″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Yameen Rasheed’s family submit a petition to Maldives Police Services to investigate his murder.
The undersigned civil society organisations write to you to condemn in the strongest terms the murder of internationally recognised Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed. We call on the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice and to end the cycle of impunity for attacks on journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders that has taken root in the Maldives.
Yameen Rasheed was an impassioned critic who reported on issues related to corruption, radicalism, and impunity, mainly through his popular blog The Daily Panic. In 2015, IFEX helped to support Yameen to speak out on these issues at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His witty and relentless condemnation of systemic injustice earned him praise but also drew the attention of religious extremists and government officials who felt threatened by his social and political commentary.
Yameen Rasheed had reported numerous death threats before his attack. The police refused to act on any of his complaints. Reports since his killing suggest that the crime scene had been tampered with before a thorough review of evidence could be carried out. Furthermore, the family of Yameen Rasheed has reported harassment by local police who sought to prevent them from making public calls for justice for the death of their son. Such troubling reports raise doubts about the authorities’ commitment to ensure that a proper investigation takes place.
Yameen’s case is emblematic of the growing intolerance for ideas and opinions that challenge the role of religion in society throughout South Asia. Similar to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the Maldives, harassment of individuals that promote moderate or secular views has been common, and is justified by both militant criminal groups and sympathetic politicians on the grounds that these ideas are “un-Islamic.”
Yameen is one of three recent high-profile cases of attacks on media personnel in the Maldives over the past five years. In 2012 Ismail Rasheed, a freelance journalist and human rights campaigner, barely survived after having his throat slit near his home in the Maldivian capital, Malé. In 2014, Ahmed Rilwan, journalist for Minivan News, was abducted from his office and remains missing to this day. Rilwan was a close friend of Yameen’s, and much of Yameen’s work was focused on finding justice for Rilwan’s abduction. In all cases there has been a lack of adequate police investigation and response.
There are further causes for concern in the broader Maldivian free expression environment. The country ranks 117th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Press Freedom Index, due in large part because of restrictive laws such as the 2016 “Protection of Reputation and Good Name and Freedom of Expression Bill”, which criminalises defamation based on an overly broad definition of the offence. Public threats have frequently been issued against independent media by politicians, criminal gangs and religious extremists and have helped to create a climate of hostility that has led to self-censorship. Imprisonment of journalists and activists is also a common tactic used to silence critical voices.
Yameen Rasheed’s death should serve as a strong indicator of the need for immediate steps to protect space for dissent and debate in the Maldives, space that is threatened by draconian laws and impunity for attacks committed against individuals expressing controversial or adversarial opinions. As such, we call on the government to take the following measures:
• Ensure that a timely, thorough, and transparent investigation into the killing of Yameen Rasheed takes place and all perpetrators of this crime against freedom of expression are brought to justice. Similar action should be taken in the cases of Ismail Rasheed and Ahmed Rilwan;
• Investigate and hold accountable all those who make threats or incite violence against journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, as well as against the family of Yameen Rasheed;
• Amend or repeal laws that create disproportionate and unnecessary limits to legitimate expression, according to standards specified in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Maldives in 2006;
• Implement legislation and other measures to create a safe and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders, according to relevant recommendations accepted by the Maldives during its 2nd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR);
• Improve independence of the judiciary and build technical capacity of the police force through international assistance and other reforms, as agreed to by the Maldives during its 2nd cycle UPR.
Bytes for All
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Association for Media Development in South Sudan
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Committee to Protect Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
Free Media Movement
Global Voices Advox
Globe International Center
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Index on Censorship
Institute of Mass Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre
International Publishers Association
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA
PEN American Center
Reporters Without Borders
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
Awaz Foundation Pakistan, Centre for Development Services
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum
Center for Social Activism
Center for Media Research – Nepal
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Free Press Unlimited
Maldivian Democracy Network
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights
People’s Watch India
Pakistan NGOs Forum
Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity
South Asian Women in Media – Sri Lanka
South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1494603115837-be75a009-7c8a-9″ taxonomies=”9143, 4002, 8875, 9028″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship strongly condemns the killing of Maldives blogger Yameen Rasheed, who was found with multiple stab wounds in the stairway of his apartment building in Malé on Sunday 23 April 2017, and died soon after he was taken to the hospital.
“We call on Maldives authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the murder of Yameen Rasheed,” Index’s head of advocacy Melody Patry said. “The failure to protect Rasheed after he reported receiving multiple death threats to the police is tragic. It is critical the police show credible and independent efforts to bring those responsible to justice.”
Rasheed was 29 years old and frequently satirised the Maldives’ political and religious authorities in his blog the Daily Panic. Zaheena Rasheed, friend and editor of the Maldives Independent news website said Yameen Rasheed had reported receiving multiple death threats to the police. He was also a close friend of Ahmed Rilwan, the Maldives Independent journalist who was abducted and disappeared in 2014.
Maldives journalists and bloggers have faced increased pressure and taken great risks to express their opinion and hold the government to account. In August 2016 the Maldives passed a law criminalising defamation and empowering the state to impose heavy fines and shut down media outlets for “defamatory” content. In September, Maldives Independent’s office was violently attacked and later raided by the police, after the release of an Al Jazeera documentary exposing government corruption. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1492962363297-360949b6-0f99-2″ taxonomies=”4002″][/vc_column][/vc_row]