Tagged: moyameehaa

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

 

One hundred days of sorrow: missing moyameehaa

“You run back and forth listening for unusual events,
peering into the faces of travelers.
“Why are you looking at me like a madman?”
I have lost a friend. Please forgive me.” - Rumi

Rilwan

by Azra Naseem

Sunday will be the 100th day since Ahmed Rizwan (Rilwan) Abdulla, @moyameehaa, was abducted. Time has dragged, weighted down by the burden of not knowing. Between then and now much, yet nothing, has happened. The posters brightening a thousand walls with Rilwan’s smile have faded with the sun and dissolved with the rain. Five thousand men and women put pen to paper, ‘Good Sir, kind Madam, please find Rilwan,’ they begged. At least as many thousand Tweets have echoed round the world: ‘#Findmoyameehaa, #Findoyameehaa.’ Hundreds of friends and supporters have marched on Male’s streets with the question: ‘Where is Rilwan?’ Scores have met many miles away in Melbourne and in New York, asking the same question.

Rilwan’s mother has said, to any ears that would listen, ‘I am poor, but my love makes Rilwan a priceless treasure. Please find him for me.’ Hundreds have felt her tears roll down their faces. ‘He is alive,’ Rilwan’s father has insisted. His mind has been far from the assorted fruits and vegetables he sells at the local market. ‘How do you know?’ ask customers who have stopped to listen. Without batting an eyelid he has said, ‘I asked a clairvoyant.’

It may seem odd, approaching a clairvoyant to look for a son abducted in this technologically advanced twenty first century. But when the natural world makes no sense, the supernatural often appears the only consolation. In its investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance, Maldives Police Service (MPS) has been more than negligent; it has been willfully perverse. In hundred days the MPS has given almost as many excuses for making zero progress in the search for Rilwan: nobody was abducted; it was a woman who was abducted; it was not an abduction, it was a rape; Rilwan ‘disappeared himself’; Rilwan is an apostate, not worth looking for; Rilwan is playing an elaborate joke; Rilwan is writing his own missing persons reports; Rilwan was abducted by gangs, there are no gangs in the Maldives; we have arrested someone, we have let him go; Rilwan was abducted by violent extremists, there are no violent extremists in the Maldives; Rilwan is not missing, it is all a political drama; no comment; Rilwan who?

Rilwan the journalist who examined the many maladies of Maldives. Rilwan the teenage blogger who gave a damn about the poor and the wronged. Rilwan the ex-radical who understood the extremist mindset better than all official strategists. Rilwan the story-teller whose #FerryTales shortened the distance between Male’ and Hulhumale’ more than any bridge can. Rilwan the well-mannered young man who respected the elderly. Rilwan the friend who listened. Rilwan the writer who inspired. Rilwan the aspiring poet who read Rumi and Neruda. Rilwan the thinker who sought spiritual succor in meditation, Nusrat Fatah Khan and the Quran. Rilwan the friend who laughed; the brother who baked; the uncle who played; the son who loved. Rilwan the Maldivian who cared.

The reasons why Rilwan’s friends, family and supporters want him found are the very reason the authorities want him to remain missing. What Rilwan abhorred in our society, our rulers cheer loudly.

Rilwan wanted a society free of corruption; our leaders revel in it. He wanted to see Jihadist ideologies become less attractive to young Maldivians; our religious clerics encourage it while the government turns a blind eye. He wanted gang violence to have less power over society; senior government officials outsource authority to favoured gang members. Rilwan wanted equal justice for all; our rulers want judgement and punishment to be arbitrary, wielded by them how and when they please. He wanted a society where citizens shared its wealth more equally; our rulers want all wealth to be their own.

Rilwan wanted us all to think more deeply about how to live a more meaningful, spiritual and equal existence; it is the antithesis of all that our rulers desire. For the moment we begin to think more deeply is the moment we begin to regret voting them in. It would be the beginning of our demand for change, the precursor to saying: ‘Enough. I will not let you rule me anymore.’

If the past 100 days has made anything clear, it is that this government will do all it can to stop Rilwan from being found. It is in its interests to do so. The past 100 days has also made something else very clear: we must do all we can to find out what happened to Rilwan. It is in our interests to do so. Our pursuit of a more just, equal and democratic society, as dreamed of by Rilwan, cannot begin if we forget Rilwan’s abduction and the government’s role in it, either by taking him or covering it up.

Let’s not stop our pressure on the authorities to #FindMoyameehaa. We owe it to Rilwan, and to our future.

Maldives: no country for freedom

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 10.44.49 PMAhmed Rizwan Abdulla, a Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate, is missing. The 28-year-old was last seen by his family on 7 August. Unlike most Maldivians of his age, Rizwan does not live with his family but rents an apartment in Hulhumale’, a 20-minute ferry ride from Male’ the capital. Rizwan is a deeply spiritual person, known to enjoy solitude. It is not unheard of for him to take time off from society to indulge in the right to be left alone. His close friends know that. This time, however, is different.

Nobody knows where Rizwan is. His phone is switched off. His motorbike is still standing near Male’ ferry terminal, covered in dust. He does not appear to have been in his apartment since 7 August. His backpack, which contains his laptop, and which he is rarely without, is nowhere to be seen. He has not been to work at his newspaper, Minivan News, since 7 August. Rizwan’s family filed a missing person’s report with the police on Wednesday. Since news of his disappearance broke, a witness has come forward to say he saw Rizwan on the ferry from Male’ to Hulhumale’ around 1:30 a.m. on 8 August. The witness also confirms that Rizwan did not take the bus, the only form of public transport available at that time, into the dark and desolate Hulhumale’ town. Since then, nothing.

Maybe Rizwan has gone off to be on his own. His colleagues have cautioned against speculation. But the state of the country makes it impossible for most not to do so. Rizwan’s disappearance resonates with many whose beliefs reflect and echo his own, even if they do not know him personally.

People in Male’—if, like Rizwan, they support democracy, freedom of thought, free speech, and are against Islamist puritans dominating religion— live in a state of constant fear. Gangsters, religious extremists and heroin dealers have run of the city while the Maldives Police Service (MPS) continues to ‘bungle’ investigations into heinous crimes or ignore them altogether. The corrupt and unqualified judiciary, which continues to fail justice daily, makes a habit of releasing smugglers and dealers, even when they are caught with drugs worth millions. The MPS has failed at solving almost all major murders from the killing of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012 till now. If there is any success, it is from a confession. Even then justice is not guaranteed; it is not unknown for confessions to be elicited under duress.

After a lull during the month of Ramadan, crime—including violent murder—has increased exponentially since Eid. In addition to the gang violence is the fear that hardline Islamists are also resuming their pre-Ramadan actions against freedom of thought and expression. The worst thing is, there is ample room to believe the authorities are complicit in these activities. Last June, ‘concerned citizens’, worried about a perceived increase in non-believers, met with the Islamic Minister as well as the Home Minister, to press them for stronger action against ‘unbelievers’. The same ‘concerned citizens’, as the high level government officials well knew, were involved in high-profile kidnappings and abductions of alleged non-believers around the same time.

This policy of turning a blind-eye to crimes committed in the name of religion is made most obvious at the macro-level in the government’s refusal to put into place any counter-radicalisation programmes in the Maldives. Supporters of the Islamic State are multiplying in the country at an unbelievably rapid rate. News of Maldivian fighters in Syria only broke in mainstream media in July this year after the death of two. Jihadist ideology, however, has been present and spreading freely for years. Many hundreds of Facebook profiles of Maldivians now proudly carry the IS flag or the black flag of other Jihadi fighters. Some such pages date back to 2010; many were created on or after July this year.

While support for IS, Jabhat Al Nusra and other such groups is only becoming widely popular now, non-violent fundamentalists have had uncontrolled on- and off-line access to the Maldivian population for over a decade. Salafi scholars, preachers and activists dominate all institutions of education from the Centre for Holy Quran (which, by the way, is to get a new ten storey building) to the Centre for Higher Secondary Education and the Faculty of Law at the Maldives National University—and this is just in Male’. There is no authority overseeing education centres on outer islands. Not a week goes by without Salafi preachers and Sheikhs visiting one island or another to proselytise. There are monthly Da’wa camps, How to Pray camps, How to Sleep camps, How to Live camps and How to Die camps. The Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Force are often on the receiving end of such teachings. While there are divisions among subscribers to the various ideologies, they are all united in condemning Maldivians who refuse to fall in line with their vision of Maldives as an Islamic State, with strictly applied Sharia as its only legal system.

Simultaneously with all the frenetic off-line religiosity, a substantial percentage of Maldivians are online using their social media platforms chiefly as a means of displaying their allegiance to violent and non-violent Salafi and other purist ideologies to proscribe them; to preach them; and to spread it among their friends. Like most users of social media everywhere in the world, they Share, Like, Poke, and Follow without question.

With few exceptions: like Rizwan.

Rizwan is a prolific user of the Internet, especially social media. He was among the first bloggers in the Maldives, is on Tumblr, and is a highly popular micro-blogger on Twitter, followed by many thousands. His online persona has the name of ‘Moyameeha’. He has vast empathy, and a good sense of humour; his #ferrytales entertain many. He is knowledgeable about how centuries old Maldives’ national and religious identity has been hijacked by fundamentalists within a short span of just over a decade.

Unlike most people he can, and does, engage with those whose beliefs he does not condone.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.44.27 PM

Rizwan does not believe in hatred in the name of religion. He does not believe in violence. And he is not afraid to say so. Maldivian supporters of IS flew their flag at the surf point in Male’ in July this year. Rizwan Tweeted a picture.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 10.14.18 PM

When pro-Palestinian Maldivians on Thulusdhoo put up Nazi insignia to the dismay of Israeli tourists on the island, Rizwan—while clearly with the people of Gaza—was first to point out that anti-Semitism is not the same as solidarity with Gaza.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 10.07.03 PM

He is a vocal critic of the Islamist Adhaalath Party, and often points out the hypocrisy of their scholars/politicians.

Rilwan’s last Tweet mocked former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s notorious habit of dabbling in astronomy and ‘reading the stars’—often with disastrous results.

Disappearances were a part of Maldivian life in pre-democracy times. And, with Gayoom’s family and cronies back in positions of power after last November’s elections, intimidation of dissenters and political opposition—using gangs and other violent forces—is also returning.

For the many thoughts he expressed freely, Rizwan has made many enemies. There have been many warnings that his days are numbered.

Rizwan

 

The gangsters were not far behind.

Fact is, there is no room in the Maldives of today for people driven by a love of humanity. No place here for believers in non-violence. No space for those who refuse to subscribe to the idea of a vengeful God that wants to obliterate all who do not blindly follow His self-appointed avengers. It is the dominance of these people—willing to maim and kill for God or money—untempered by a government that could not care less, and emboldened by law enforcement officials that are complicit, which makes Maldives a dangerous place for those who believe in human rights and the rule of law. That is why Rizwan’s family and friends are fraught with fear for him despite their best intentions not to speculate. Because they know twenty first century Maldives is no country for good people. Good people like Rizwan.


Regardless of the possibilities of all the awful scenarios Maldives today makes possible, all Rizwan’s friends and family are hoping against hope that he has not fallen victim to any of them. Their fervent wish is that Rizwan would be found safe. Today in Hulhumale’, they are all out searching for him. If you have any information regarding Rizwan that you think may help, please contact the police hotline at 332 2111, or Serious and Organised Crime Department at 9911099. And, anyone wishing to add to the ongoing search in Hulhumale’, please contact organisers via #findmoyameehaa hashtag, or on 775 4566 or 977 3250.

Update at 16:44 GMT: Latest report from Minivan News, staff of whom were heavily involved in today’s search, says Rizwan was not on the 1:30 a.m. ferry as claimed by witness. Members of the search part thoroughly reviewed CCTV footage from the ferry terminal in Male’ and confirm that Rizwan did not get on the ferry at 1:30 a.m. on 8 August or any time between 0:00 and 03:00 that day.