'You will be killed next': Maldives journalists shaken by symbolic machete attack on office

Alleged gang leader blamed for intimidation following reporter's disappearance at luxury tourism destination

Journalists in the Maldives said a man named in a recent report about gang violence approached a newspaper office and lodged a machete in the wooden door. The man also removed a CCTV camera which recorded his assault.

In the latest act of intimidation against media organisations and journalists, witnesses said the man approached the offices of the Minivan News and started pounding on the door. He then stuck a rusty machete into the door, removed the camera and left the scene on a motorbike.

Reports say the man, an alleged gang-leader, was named in a recent inquiry into the possible role of organised gangs in the disappearance of a Minivan News journalist. Ahmed Rilwan was last seen in the early hours of 8 August as he made his way home from work, using the ferry that connects Male to Hulamale.

Witnesses saw a man being abducted at knife-point outside Mr Rilwan’s apartment and forced into a vehicle. There has been no sign of the 28-year-old since and many people have questioned the efforts being made by police.

In the aftermath of his disappearance, a human rights group, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), hired a private detective agency from Glasgow to carry out an inquiry. The MDN subsequently issued a report saying they suspected radicalised gangs had a role in the journalist’s abduction.

It said that several men had been abducted in June by a vigilante group targeting online activists advocating secularism in the Maldives, which is almost entirely Muslim.

The machete buried in the door of the newspaper office in the Maldives

Activists have spoken about the rise in the influence of radical Wahhabi Islam from Saudi Arabia in the country. The report said it was a “strong possibility” gang activity was behind Mr Rilwan’s disappearance and named the man believed to have attacked the Minivan News office.

“Minivan News deeply regrets the rapidly deteriorating media environment in the Maldives,” said a statement issued by the newspaper. “Similarly, the idea that we can be intimidated and forced to stop writing at a time like this indicates a failure to understand the importance of a free media in a democratic society.”

In the hours after the attack on the newspaper’s offices on Thursday afternoon, a member of the staff received an SMS message that read: “You will be killed or disappeared next, be careful.”

The Maldives is best known in the West an a luxury tourist destination but the island nation has a more sinister side. For decades, the Maldives was run by a military dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who in 2008 was beaten in the first open election by former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed.

Mr Nasheed was forced out of office in early 2012 in what he termed a coup and the country was plagued with political turmoil for more than 18 months. The current president, Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Mr Gayoom, was elected in November 2013.

A report published earlier this year by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission found 84 per cent of journalists said they had been threatened.