Section: People

The road to justice is paved with answers to Rilwan’s abduction

MaleShitty

by Azra Naseem

In the early hours of the morning on 8 August 2014, journalist and blogger Ahmed Rilwan (28), was captured on CCTV boarding a ferry from Male’ to Hulhumale’. It is the last known and verifiable movements of Rilwan who, it has been widely reported, was abducted later that morning from his apartment in Hulhumale’.

It is three years to the day since Rilwan’s disappearance. Three years without any answers.

Who took Rilwan? Why? What did they do to him? Did they kill him? How? Or, is he alive? Why were the authorities so unconcerned at such a disappearance? Why did the police not investigate the crime? Why did the parliament refuse to accept a petition signed by over 5000 people asking it to look into why the crime was being ignored? Why did the police release all suspects in the case they eventually arrested?

Why the impunity?

In the early hours of the morning on 23 April 2017, writer and blogger Yameen Rasheed (29), returned home from work after staying late to finish a project. At least two men were waiting for him inside his apartment block. They attacked him viciously, stabbing him over thirty times all over his body. The police arrived at the scene about half an hour later. It was another 11 minutes before the police, instead of calling an ambulance, bundled Yameen into a police car and drove him to the hospital. Yameen died shortly after.

The police, meanwhile, set to work on the crime scene; not to process it, but to clean it up. Not only was the blood and other evidence washed away, the blood splattered walls were freshly painted.

Three months have passed since without any answers.

Why was Yameen killed? Why is the investigation a secret? Is there an investigation? Are the suspects in custody the ones who carried out the killing? Was it personal, or was it a contract killing? If so, who took out the contract? Was it violent extremists? Did they kill him for his anti-dictatorship satire? Did they kill him for being tolerant of other religions and minorities? Why have the police been so rude to his family? Why are they not giving any answers?

Why the impunity?

In the early hours of the evening on 31 July 2017, about ten masked men on five motorcycles whizzed past the heavy crowds on Male’s main street, Majeedhee Magu, at high speed. All of them were carrying sharp implements—machetes, knives—in plain sight. The headlights on their bikes were switched off. As they turned into a small laneway off Majeedhee Magu just past the Olympus Theatre, people stood frozen to the spot, afraid to say or do anything in case the men lashed out with their weapons.

Only a few short moments later the men were back on the laneway, this time riding towards Majeedhee Magu. They had just killed Ahmed Anas (25), a boat captain from the island of Raa Atoll Meedhoo.

As they rode at high speed they yelled at the public, in the filthiest language possible, to get out of their way. Child, woman or elderly, they did not care as they waved their weapons and threatened anyone that did not hasten to clear the way for them.

“The moment was full of fear. The men’s cruelty and their shouted warnings haunted the atmosphere”, reported local newspaper Addu Live*.

A week later, the police put 12 people in custody in connection with the murder. But no questions have been answered.

Why was Anas killed? Was it a case of mistaken identity as President Yameen—not the police, but the President—has informed the public? Or was it a contract killing? Was Anas killed by the jealous gangster ex-husband of his wife-to-be, as the family alleges? Why did the President move so fast to give the murder a particular flavour? Will the suspects be released, like they were in Rilwan’s case? Are those in custody merely the people who carried out the killing on a contract basis, like they are in the case of Yameen? If so, will the person who took out the contract be brought to justice, or will they be allowed to get away with it, like in the case of Yameen and that of Dr Afrasheem Ali before him?

Will the family get justice? Or will the devastated parents of Anas join those of Rilwan and Yameen on the streets, forced to turn their beloved sons into placards and hashtags and names on petitions that call out for justice in vain?

In the three years since the abduction of Rilwan the (non)actions of the Maldives Police Service (MPS), and the authorities that command it, have created and nourished a culture of impunity for criminals that has made Male’, the capital of Maldives, one of the most dangerous cities in the world to live. This year alone there have already been three murders on the two square mile island that over 150,000 people call home.

Residents of Male’ live in fear, hemmed in from all sides with no escape as the government closes all open spaces in the name of ‘development’. The Raalhugan’du area to the east where people used to go for runs, walks, chats, to surf, or just to breathe, is closed off to house Chinese labourers who are building an unnecessary bridge to an island just 10 minutes away by boat. The Sultan Park, once a lush green oasis in the centre of Male’ has been cordoned off for months on end, its ancient trees cut down to make way for an incomprehensible winter wonderland. Cafes, restaurants, streets, ferry terminals and all other public spaces have all been used for violent gangland attacks that have gone unpunished. Police are quick to cordon off any area they feel like, mostly when political dissidents—and/or those seeking justice—use them to gather peacefully to express their objections to the status quo of impunity.

With nowhere to go, residents of this island prison are forced indoors, both adults and children trapped inside small apartments, unable to enjoy life, unable to live life. Afraid for their lives.

Male’ City, or Male’ Shitty as many have come to call it, is a living hell for most of its residents.

And it is all because of the culture of impunity that Maldives Police Service has created, and allowed to flourish, in the three years since the abduction of Ahmed Rilwan.

To begin the end of this culture of impunity, the public must first be told what happened to Rilwan.


*The description of what happened on the night Anas was murdered is a translation of the account reported in Addu Live

The illustration is by Ahmed Fauzan

 

An examined life: Yameen Rasheed

Yameen

By Azra Naseem

Hey, you there?

Very sad to say this but they’ve stabbed Yamin to death.

The Twitter DM arrived in my inbox at 3:48 in the morning on Sunday the 23rd of April. I was in Europe, five hours behind Male’ time. It was another three hours before I switched my phone on and looked at my messages.

“What? Really? OMG,” I replied.

My brain was still half asleep, not at its sharpest. What kind of chaos will the Maldives have to face now that the President has been assassinated, I wondered. What sort of a madman would have done such a thing? Life was bad enough for people as it was. Nothing good will come of killing the President.

Even as I grappled with thoughts of inevitable violence, riots and protests that would surely follow in the wake of the assassination, one persistent thought kept trying to muscle its way in… “He doesn’t mean the President, he doesn’t mean the President…”

“Oh no. I thought YAG. NO NO”.

I fired away another message, as if my friend, thousands of miles away in Male’, had been privy to the battle raging inside my mind. When his reply came, somehow, I knew what it would be.

“Yameen Rasheed”.

I lay unmoving in bed for what seemed like hours, trying to come to terms with the news. A hundred days later, I, like many others, still haven’t succeeded in wholly accepting the reality that Yameen is gone.

There are many reasons for this difficulty. Chief among them is the enormity of the loss his death has brought at a variety of different levels: family, partner, friends, colleagues, society at large.

Family

In the hundred days that just crawled by agonisingly slowly, it has become clear just how deeply Yameen’s family feels his absence. In the immediate aftermath of the killing, his devastated mother spoke of how central Yameen was to the family’s existence. Through tears she described how he always listened to her, how bas-ahaa a child he was. Yameen took so much pride in being a disobedient writer, but he was an obedient son. A mother’s pride and joy.

Both Yameen’s sisters mourn his absence daily. It was not often that Yameen shared his private life on social media, but he shared his excitement in becoming an uncle. Later, after he was killed, his sister shared material that showed how devoted an uncle he remained in the years that followed.

I remember Yameen joining Instagram about a year ago, a surprisingly latecomer to the platform for someone so often on social media—the first picture he shared was one with his younger sister, celebrating her birthday. Today, most of her life appears dedicated to remembering him.

Like the love of his mother and siblings, the love and pride Yameen’s father feels for his son has become writ large in the public domain in the last 100 days. Hussain Rasheed has bravely fought the authorities’ attempts to silence him in his struggle to get justice for his son. He has travelled near and far, from the media in India to embassies and NGOs in other neighbouring countries to the heart of the world’s fight for human rights at the UN offices in Geneva, appealing to anyone who would listen to please help get justice for his son. 

Love

He was all the way head over heels. Seems like they took him when he was absolutely on top of the world.

A mutual friend said in a DM a few days after Yameen’s killing. Just how right this friend was became evident in the last 100 days as the woman whose love had put Yameen on top of the world, Celine Peroni, shared with us the beauty of their new love and the devastation of it being so brutally nipped in the bud.

As any of us who have been lucky enough to feel it know, there is nothing quite as heady as the emotions we experience when we find The One true love of our lives. Celine and Yameen seemed to have been in the throes of that ecstasy when they took his life away. Even in the virtual, impersonal space of social media, Celine’s pain is palpable.

I, and no doubt many like me who appreciated Yameen, grieve with her for the un-lived potential of their love, the travel plans that will remain unrealised, the daughter they imagined who will now never be conceived. The killing of Yameen is so difficult to come to terms with because it symbolises the death of potential.

Friendship

Anyone who saw Yameen’s relentless efforts to find out what happened to his friend Ahmed Rilwan, abducted on 8 August 2014 and missing since, cannot doubt Yameen’s commitment to his friendships. In the last 100 days this aspect of Yameen’s character became more clear as friends from around the world mourned their loss in writing, and celebrated how his friendship had enhanced their lives in a myriad different ways.

There were friends he shared his love of reading with, friends he shared his programming skills with, writers with whom he shared writing tips, friends he enjoyed being silly with—all of them spoke or wrote of how he encouraged them to pursue their dreams, to live life to the full. None of them have been able to forget, all of them are in pain, and all of them are as deeply committed to getting justice for Yameen as Yameen had been committed to finding the truth about his friend Rilwan.

Colleagues

When Yameen was not on Twitter highlighting the difficulties (and the absurdities) of living under a dictatorship, he was coding. His employer, Maldives Stock Exchange, mourned the ‘warm hearted and dearly loved’ colleague and ‘outstanding employee’, and shut their doors for a day as a mark of respect.

Only a short while before he was killed, Yameen was in London with his friend, Mohammed Shuraih, to pitch Blood Drive, at the at the Sandoz Healthcare HaCK. Blood Drive, an app to help the many Maldivian children suffering from thalassemia, was one of three winners in the global competition to receive €20,000 and ongoing support from experts. The latest issue of Wired UK wrote it was devastated to learn of Yameen’s death. 

Several fellow writers both at home and abroad, too, spoke of their friendships with Yameen, and how they had loved working with him. JJ Robinson, former editor of the Maldives Independent, and author of Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy, described Yameen as the Jon Stewart of Maldives. The Indian Express framed Yameen’s editorial in the paper, and gifted it to his proud family. Other media outlets, NGOs, diplomats and human rights defenders whose paths crossed Yameen’s all expressed sadness at the loss of such a person.

The killing of Yameen is so difficult to come to terms with because he had done so much in such a short space of time. And he was on the cusp of a great career, quite possibly with worldwide impact.

Society

With the killing of Yameen, the troubled Maldives society was robbed of one of its rarest type of inhabitants: a thinking person, an individual who thought of the collective, who fought for the underdog and whose words were based on principles he lived by.

Yameen was empathetic. His start-up project was focused on doing social good. He bought meals for the starving as his zakaath. He volunteered with the Red Crescent in Maldives. He was there, helping out when Male’ suffered a water crisis. He cared for the environment — to minimise his carbon emissions, he walked everywhere. He was true to his stated beliefs.

Yameen, who grew up in diverse multicultural India, was tolerant of everyone except the fool, the hypocrite, and the sanctimonious. He had no mercy for the prejudiced and the bigoted. He refused to hate in the name of God, stood up against homophobia, had no room for anti-Semites, and fought the idea that people of only one religion should have the right to practice their faith in the Maldives. He was ferocious in his criticism of those who used religion for political and personal gain. He had no time for the hate-filled faux-religious ideology used to recruit so many young Maldivians as soldiers in the wars of Al-Qaeda and the ISIS in the Middle East. He spoke out against how the ideology was changing Maldivian society into one driven by hatred of, and conflict with, the Other. He was critical of the government which allowed the rot to spread for political reasons.

And they killed him for that. They killed him for his tolerance. One thing today’s Maldivian society will not tolerate is tolerance. It will not allow freedom of thought. It will not allow difference. It demands conformity, uniformity. Silence or captivity, silence or death.

Yameen chose to think, and he paid with his life.

It is hard to come to terms with Yameen’s death because, examined closely, his life was one so worth living.

Torture rears its ugly head in the Maldives … again

by Anonymous

The use of torture as a tool of citizen oppression is a hallmark of dictatorships. The past and recent histories of the Maldives have been defined by authoritarian rule with a flimsy façade of overt calmness and order. This belied the covert systemic use of torture in the country’s prisons, which has been documented over the years by torture survivor and late historian Ahmed Shafeeg and more recently, by citizen advocates and journalists.

Nevertheless, Maldives has made great strides to address the issue of torture in some ways. Maldives ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT) on 20 April 2004. On 23 December 2013, law number 13/2013, the Anti-Torture Law made history as the first such legislation passed in the country. A recognition of this magnitude can only be considered a great leap forward to eliminate the practice of torture, a heinous crime which robs society of its most basic moral values of humanity and respect for human dignity. In its statement issued on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June 2017, the United Nations said,

Torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being.[1]

One of the most important milestones a society can achieve in its fight to eliminate torture is to acknowledge its presence and move towards redress through a process of truth and reconciliation. With the shift in the political environment since the historic change of government in November 2008, a group of torture survivors formed the Torture Victims Association of Maldives (TVA) in January 2010[2]. The TVA, in collaboration with the UK based NGO Redress with a mandate to end torture and seek justice for survivors, painstakingly documented torture survivor testimonials across the country. The testimonies revealed incidents of torture between 1978 to 2008, which is the duration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s 30-year long authoritarian regime. Two years since its inauguration, on 6 February 2012, the TVA submitted a dossier of testimonials provided by survivors of torture in prison, to the then President Mohamed Nasheed. The President “assured that he would do everything possible to find justice for the torture victims through the powers vested on him by the Constitution.”[3] The following day, on 7 February 2012, President Nasheed was removed from office in a coup d’état.

As the political situation in the Maldives took a turn towards transitional chaos, the efforts of the TVA risked invisibility. However, the commitment of some members of the TVA and Redress ensured that the torture report entitled, This Is What I Wanted to Tell You, was successfully submitted to the 105th Session of the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) held in Geneva in July 2012[4]. At this session, the Committee reviewed the Maldives State Report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The HRC also reviewed a record number of reports of human rights violations from the Maldives, submitted by various non-governmental human rights organisations and institutions.[5]

In its Concluding Observations of the country review, the HRC raised concerns about “reported cases of torture and ill-treatment by Police and National Defence Forces that occurred in the State party prior to 2008 which have not all been investigated.”[6] The HRC recommended the Maldives to “take steps to combat torture and ill-treatment in its all [sic] forms and prohibit it in its legislation. The State party should consider setting up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all human rights violations, including torture that took place in the State party prior to 2008 and provide compensation to the victims.”[7] The HRC’s recommendation to enact legislation to prohibit torture was met by the Maldives by the passage of the Anti-Torture Act in 2013, which is a welcome development.

However, five years on, other recommendations including the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations remain pending. There has been no move to address the important requirement to provide redress to survivors of torture. As the words of one torture survivor conveys clearly, a critical component of pursuing redress is to help survivors achieve some semblance of reparation and justice.

This is what I wanted to tell you. That is what I have to say.

I have no problems if you use these stories of mine anywhere.

If they and if I get some justice, that would be good. [8]

Following the Maldives ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in 2006, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) was assigned the mandate to prevent and investigate allegations of torture, as the appointed National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Further, it has a mandate to investigate and report on allegations of torture, under the Anti-Torture Act of 2013. In 2015, the HRCM produced its second annual anti-torture report, which investigated 37 cases of torture allegations.[9] However, the HRCM reportedly faces a multitude of challenges to its work, including the gathering of evidence, limitations in law and procedural standards as well as availability of resources.[10] In 2016, news headlines about allegations of torture investigated by the HRCM provide no evident change to the status quo from the previous year, except that the number of cases had increased significantly from 54 to 65.[11] Worryingly, the latter report explained that the HRCM said “it found no evidence to back up allegations of torture because of a lack of medical evidence, eye witness testimony, and CCTV cameras at jails and detention centres.”[12] Notably, the TVA/Redress torture report was also submitted to the HRCM in 2012, although to date it is not known what action the Commission has taken about the contents of the report.

In this context, recent allegations of torture in detention in the Maldives is an extremely disturbing development. Available documentation from the HRCM shows that during 2011, the Commission produced and publicly shared a number of reports about its monitoring and abuse prevention efforts in several places of detention across the country. The effect this monitoring and information sharing had, was a sense of accountability and reassurance that torture and inhuman and degrading treatment were no longer happening in prisons. However, after 2011 the HRCM appears to have become notably opaque on matters relating to the mandate of the NPM, with a significant decline in monitoring visits and reports. Although the consistent production of the annual torture report is a welcome activity, the acute limitations of the Commission noted in those reports are cause for concern.

Allegations of torture of high profile political detainees have surfaced through their lawyers and families in recent years. In 2016, media sources reported torture allegations of detained social media political activist Ahmed Ashraf (a.k.a Shumba Gong). His lawyer alleged that his client was “forced to sit on the floor in handcuffs” while officers “alternately poured hot and ice-cold water on him.”[13] In a media environment where news sources are being penalised for covering dissenting views using draconian laws, media self-censorship is the reality. Despite this, news sources have been consistently reporting alleged denial of medical access and healthcare to high profile political detainee Ahmed Adeeb, which has been described by opposition MP and lawyer Ali Hussain, as unlawful.[14] In deeply politically divided Maldives, Ahmed Adeeb’s alleged ill-treatment by the authorities is met with mixed views by members of the public, which alarmingly include reactions of indifference and vengeful acceptance. Although the premise that all humans have rights is commonly understood in the Maldives, ideas of justice and equality before the law remain elusive, perhaps due to its systemic absence. The occurrence of any form of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment in detention (when a person is already punished with loss of liberty) regardless of their crime, is an unacceptable social and civic standard in any society.

On 19 June 2017, further allegations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of a detainee emerged where the family of a suspected offender in custody released a public statement describing acts of torture perpetrated against him [15]. These include allegations of being detained in a place not deemed lawful for detention; being forced to sit and look at a wall for two days; being put in a cell where a strong smell of sewage made breathing difficult and requests for help were ignored, and later ridiculed; sleep deprivation by being constantly woken and interrogated; and providing drinking water with an unknown substance added to it, all of which affected the conscious state and well-being of the detainee.[16]

On 26 June, the HRCM issued a press statement on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.[17] In their statement, the Commission reiterated its mandate to address torture prevention and called on State authorities to strengthen their efforts to prevent torture. The Commission made no reference to the status of the long pending TVA/Redress torture report submitted to the UN HRC and the Commission itself, in 2012. There was no mention of any action by the Commission to achieve the recommendations to address torture, provided by the UN HRC in their Concluding Observations to the Maldives. Nor did the statement acknowledge the immediate, current allegations and related concerns in the public domain, shared by families and lawyers of detainees.

One of the recommendations of the TVA/Redress torture report is to “ensure that credible allegations of more recent violations of human rights are promptly, effectively and impartially investigated, that those responsible for wrongdoing are brought to account, and that victims are provided with reparation.” [18] Additional recommendations include ensuring that the HRCM, the Police and the courts “have sufficient independence and resources to effectively respond to allegations of torture … in line with their mandates.” [19] It is clear that nothing will change until the Maldivian State authorities collectively arrive at a point to embrace the civic duty to eliminate torture and uphold the inalienable right of every citizen to their inherent human dignity.

As the UN’s recent statement explains, torture results in “pervasive consequences” that “go beyond the isolated act on an individual; and can be transmitted through generations and lead to cycles of violence”.[20] Torture achieves nothing but the decay of humanity and the degradation of social cohesion. The practice of torture irrevocably erodes the humanity of the torturer and the victim. Its virulent effects spread across society as generations of Maldivians suffer in the cycle of violence it generates, directly and indirectly. The occurrence of torture in Maldivian prisons has always been known to the public. However, the most authoritative documentation of systemic torture was provided by the TVA/Redress torture report.

The inhumanity of torture does not remain forever confined within prison cells. The explosion of violence Maldivian society has been experiencing in recent years can be attributed to inhuman practices, impunity and the absence of accountability rooted within the country’s authoritarian governance system and structures. According to www.mvmurders.com the “Maldives has seen a steady increase in murders in recent times, to the point where the phenomenon is now a normalized part of Maldivian society.” The website is a response by concerned persons to document the issue of murder in an erstwhile calmer society where cases of murder rarely occurred. Starting from 2001, the website documents 58 murders to date. These include 2 toddlers, 8 minors, 30 young people between 18 to 30 years, 6 people between 30 to 50 years, 8 elders between 50 to 80 years and 4 of unknown age. Among these, 12% are female and 88% are male.[21] These figures do not reflect the criminal violence that take place due to gang fights or violence against women and children, which also result in grievous physical and psychological long-term harm to victims.

mvmurders-data

The legacy of systemic violence, impunity and the persistent practice of torture in the Maldives undoubtedly converge to bring society to its current reality of insensitivity, inhumanity and insecurity. The ineffectiveness of responsible authorities to address the issue remains a fundamental obstruction to begin to rid Maldivian society of the plague of torture.


[1] International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, UN, http://www.un.org/en/events/torturevictimsday/

[2] Pain and Politics : Torture Victims Association inaugurated, Minivan News, 21 March 2017, https://minivannewsarchive.com/tag/torture-victims-association

[3] Torture Victims Association calls on the President to help find justice, 06 February 2012, President’s Office, http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/?lid=11&dcid=6722

[4] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[5] Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Centre), Maldives NGO review reports 2012, http://ccprcentre.org/country/maldives

[6] Maldives – Concluding Observations adopted by the Human Rights Committee at its 105th session, 9-27 July 2012, CCPR/C/MDV/CO/1, 31 August 2012, http://ccprcentre.org/doc/2012/07/G1245583.pdf

[7] ibid

[8] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[9] 54 cases of torture filed against police, Maldives Independent, 01 August 2015, http://maldivesindependent.com/crime-2/54-cases-of-torture-filed-against-police-115980

[10] ibid

[11] Watchdog lets police off the hook over torture claims, Maldives Independent, 03 August 2016, http://maldivesindependent.com/politics/watchdog-lets-prison-guards-and-police-off-the-hook-over-torture-claims-125885

[12] Ibid (emphasis added)

[13] Shumba Gong tortured in jail, says lawyer, Maldives Independent, 10 April 2016, http://maldivesindependent.com/politics/ashraf-tortured-in-jail-says-lawyer-123422

[14] Obstructing Adeeb’s access to medical care is unlawful : Ali Hussain [translation from Dhivehi], VFP, 21 June 2017, https://vfp.mv/f/?id=61956

[15] Statement published via Twitter by family member Maumoon Hameed, @maanhameed, 19 June 2017, https://twitter.com/maanhameed/status/876718581257347072

[16] Ibid [translated from Dhivehi]

[17] HRCM Press Statement on the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June 2017, HRCM, http://hrcm.org.mv/dhivehi/news/page.aspx?id=650

[18] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, page.2, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[19] ibid

[20] International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, UN, http://www.un.org/en/events/torturevictimsday/

[21] Data source : www.mvmurders.com (June 2017)