Ahmed Rilwan's disappearance is a perfect illustration of the Maldives’ ongoing troubles

There is a darker, more menacing side to the island nation that the foreign tourists rarely see

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 09 September 2014 17:18
Comments
Britons know the Maldives mostly for its beautiful beaches and resorts, but corruption and human rights abuses marked the 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, before Mohamed Nasheed won the islands’ first democratic election in 2008
Britons know the Maldives mostly for its beautiful beaches and resorts, but corruption and human rights abuses marked the 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, before Mohamed Nasheed won the islands’ first democratic election in 2008

The last believed sighting of Ahmed Rilwan – and even that is not confirmed – took place a month ago and occurred in deeply ominous circumstances.

The Maldivian journalist was heading home in the early hours of 8 August, using the ferry that connects Male to Hulamale. He was captured on CCTV shortly before 1am. He was wearing a dark shirt.

At around 2am, witnesses reported seeing a man in dark clothes being forced at knifepoint into a vehicle parked outside Mr Rilwan’s apartment. There has been no word of the 28-year-old since. Mr Rilwan, who used the Twitter handle Moyameehaa, wrote about politics, criminal gangs, Islamic extremism and the not uncommon nexus of all three. He upset people and received threats from those who wanted him to stop. He chose to carry on. “We believe he was abducted but we’ve not got any leads,” said his brother, Moosa Rilwan. “We believe he was abducted by people to stop his freedom of speech; to stop him writing about politics and radicals.”

Asked if he believed his brother was still alive, he replied: “We hope he is still alive; [we] are trying our best to find him.”

The Maldives, an island nation made up of more than 1,200 atolls, is best known as a location of picture-perfect beaches and a destination for luxury holidays. Tourism accounts for at least 30 per cent of GDP and in 2013 there were 82,690 visitors from the UK. China and other parts of east Asia account for an increasing number of visitors. But there is a darker, more menacing side to the Maldives that the foreign tourists rarely see. For decades, the nation 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. Activists say the Maldives, a Muslim nation, faces challenges on many fronts, including the seeping influence of Wahhabism, corruption and challenges to press freedom. A report published earlier this year by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission found 84 per cent of journalists said they had been threatened. In 2012, a well-known journalist and human rights campaigner, Ismail Rasheed, was stabbed in the throat outside his home. He survived narrowly. Then a television journalist was severely beaten in February 2013. “We are extremely worried by Rilwan’s disappearance and urge the authorities to step up their efforts to find him as quickly as possible,” said Christophe Deloire, of Reporters Without Borders.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has said the authorities are not doing enough. The UN has also spoken out about Mr Rilwan’s disappearance.

Maldives Police said a special team was examining CCTV footage and divers have searched the harbour, adding: “It is a highly prioritised case.” The office of President Yameen failed to respond to questions.

Mr Rilwan was employed by Minivan News, which during the years of turmoil has continued to pursue independent journalism. Along with the journalist’s family, it has organised a petition calling for more action.

Its editor, Daniel Bosley, said there had been no update but that there was little alternative but to wait.

“It remains a mystery,” he said. “[Ahmed] doesn’t appear any closer to being found.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in