Tagged: Yameen Rasheed

The daily pain

Yameen

by Azra Naseem

Yameen Rasheed was brutally murdered a year ago today. He had just turned 29, was on the cusp of a major career breakthrough, and had, only a short while previously, met the love of his life. He was the pride of his parents, a beloved brother, a doted upon uncle, a precious friend, an admired colleague, and a brave social critic. The promise of a fulfilling life of success, love, and potential contributions to shaping a more tolerant Maldivian society brought to an abrupt end by a knife plunged frantically into his young body; hatred cancelling out love, intolerance victorious over empathy.

It would have come as no surprise to Yameen that in the long painful year that has passed since his life was taken, none responsible have been punished. Justice, as he well knew, is non-existent in the Maldives. And nothing has highlighted this truth more than the obstacles against punishment for Yameen’s killers. To begin with, the investigation was so deliberately careless his already traumatised family had to sue the police for negligence. Their case, of course, was thrown out. The ‘trial’ that followed, and is said to be ongoing, is so secret it is closed even to Yameen’s family.

Murders are not just personal crimes, but crimes against society; but society is kept in total darkness about this particular killing which—if only society were to indulge in a moment of collective reflection it would realise—is a pivotal event in its history.

If Yameen’s death goes unpunished there would be no turning back for Maldives.

What is happening behind closed doors in the name of justice for Yameen is a struggle for the direction Maldives will take in the future: will it embrace tolerance, or will it submit to religious puritans free to take the lives of those who fail their demands for absolute conformity?

Yameen’s killing was followed by a flurry of state activity. Not against extremists who assume the authority to murder whomever they think offended what they believe is the right way to practice Islam, but against those who expressed views of Islam contrary to the extremists’ interpretations. The president used the occasion to mount an attack on ‘those who mock Islam’, and self-proclaimed religious authorities tripped over themselves to defend the right of the killers to take the lives of those who advocate tolerance. An Islamic society cannot be secular. It cannot allow other religions to co-exist. Muslims cannot empathise with people of any other faith. To advocate tolerance is to mock Islam. The message that has been broadcast loud and clear—by the president in his various speeches; by religious leaders; by figureheads of the various sects of Islam that have established themselves within Maldivian society; and—sadly—by a substantial portion of the population itself, is: follow this script, or be excluded from Maldivian society. And from life itself.

Around the world, across space and time, seemingly isolated events have triggered dramatic changes in societies. The killing of Arch Duke Ferdinand in 1914 became the catalyst for the First World War.  Almost a century later, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010 became the catalyst for the revolution in Tunisia, which gave birth to the ‘Arab Spring’.

The killing of Yameen on 23 April 2017 had the potential to trigger similarly dramatic changes in Maldivian society. It was an event that could have— should have—brought every mother, daughter, sister, brother, friend, son, and fellow citizen out on to the streets from Male’ to Addu and everywhere in-between. It should have incensed every Maldivian who believe in the sanctity of life, who hold dear the tolerance preached by their faith, who value the existential right of human beings to think freely.

But the moment passed, only those personally touched by Yameen’s wonderful spirit came out on the streets. A handful of ‘society at large’ came too. But a year later, they too, have dwindled in number to almost nothing. Only family and friends, and a core group of human rights defenders, remain on the streets. Their pain is as fresh as it was this day a year ago, their demands as sincere, their commitment to justice for Yameen unwavering.

But they cannot do it alone.

Whether people realise it or not, Yameen’s death is a life-changing event for them. By not raising their voices as one, by remaining silent in the face of the farce that is ‘justice’ for Yameen, by going about daily business as if nothing has changed, in the empty space created by their silence, they are allowing religious puritans to write their own futures, and the futures of their children.

Perhaps none of this would have surprised Yameen.

But it would have certainly caused him pain.

It would have caused him pain to know that the society he fought for did not fight back for him; that when he lost his life in the battle for freedom, the war had already been lost to those making freedom a crime.

Or has it?

Without a people’s uprising or a similarly obvious consequence, Yameen’s killing may not seem as life-changing a moment in the history of the Maldives. But it is. In retrospective, if society remains complicit as now, it would be pointed to as the event which planted Maldives firmly on the path to intolerant religious puritanism. Truth is, there is still time to shape what happens next. The ‘trial’ is not over yet. The future is not yet writ large in a ‘court’ verdict. The people still have the power to make sure it will be one that allows all Maldivians right to think freely for themselves without being punished and killed for what they think and what they say.

What it will take is for everyone who believes in such a society to stand up.

Like Yameen did.

Or be prepared for daily panic, and endless pain.

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.