Tagged: Maldives writers

Starved for justice: the Rilwan & Yameen story

by Mushfiq Mohamed

Rilwan and Yameen were peaceful, principled and brave. Their calming presence, wit and humility set them apart from the average modern Maldivian. Even as I write, I think of a multitude of cheeky comments Yameen would have made about how carefully I frame my words. The principles they believed in were clear, simple and open. The aspirations and values they had for the society into which they were born should not be controversial to anyone. Many mistakenly think Yameen and Rilwan only wrote about religious extremists. Their focus was not so narrow. On numerous occasions they wrote beautifully of how society was rotting at its core in relentless cycles of nepotism and political violence, causing the kind of cultural decay and malaise that requires persistent resistance. It would take a continuous and infinite revolution to resolve. The Maldives may have interrupted these two incredible souls, but their soul-searching over our nation’s condition continues to resonate with many of us. 

The last time I spoke to Yameen, he was here in London in March 2017 after winning seed funding from a global tech company for a breakthrough healthcare app he developed. We could not meet but planned to catchup in Malé when I went back to renew my visa. A few days after I returned to Malé in April, I woke up to the horrific news of his killing. In contrast to our planned laughter-filled interaction, I went to his funeral in April 2017—filled with echoes of his family’s cries.

Why do we keep speaking of Rilwan and Yameen? Why not stay quiet and let the government attend to its ‘more important tasks at hand’? Why not focus on the issues of bread and butter? Why not talk of the sewage systems some island communities are still waiting for? Or the privatised healthcare system? Or the fact that clean drinking water is still a privilege on several of these islands? It is because you cannot talk about bread without talking about the blood on the streets. Those crime scenes might have been hosed down, the evidence erased or negligently abandoned. But the loss of these two promising young men is forever imprinted in the minds of their family and friends, and the young people of this nation. 

It is a waking nightmare to call home a place where my friends could disappear by force or brutally hacked to death in their own homes as they would in a lawless failed state. 

What is most devastating is the deafening silence of the masses, a majority of whom appear conditioned into questioning the powerless over the powerful. It surely should be the other way around. The Zeus-like politicians with their entourage of yes-men, who can be capricious and populist while promoting democracy, do not realise still that their inaction and shifting priorities will eventually extinguish the small flames of hope the Maldives had for an open society that legally recognised and protected all Maldivians equally. 


“The knife you see in this picture was found on the road outside Rilwan’s apartment [building] on 7 August 2014 after an individual was seen being forced into a car”

Deaths and Disappearances Commission (DDCom), 8 February 2021

For years, Rilwan’s family and friends talked about the knife, the red car, the abduction. In the end they killed the most vocal critic of police negligence in investigating Rilwan’s abduction and its connections to Salafi-Jihadism. Yameen refused to stop questioning until they silenced him literally. Others who joined the family in their campaign for justice were followed and threatened in full view of CCTV cameras. Plots were hatched to kill us. In September 2014, one of the men implicated in the abduction of Rilwan threatened to disappear me too. He did so openly, on a street of Malé. Leevan Shareef was cornered and quizzed on his Islamic knowledge the next year. We were subject to hostile surveillance again in late 2016. Our police reports gathered dust without so much as a statement from Leevan and I. When Rilwan was abducted and Yameen was killed, records of death threats against them, ignored by the police, went as far back as ten years. 

The new government set DDCom up with the pledge to resolve the atrocious crimes of the past, including those committed by the previous government. Transitional justice, they proclaimed, was an important cause for this government. In April 2019, for the first time, the president joined the third rally held to commemorate Yameen’s killing. President Solih seemed to have a lump in his throat as he spoke of the importance of serving justice for Rilwan and Yameen’s families. Activists reminded the government that we may never have another opportunity to get to the truth. These cases are but just two of the 27 cases the DDCom is attempting to resolve since it was formed in 2018. 

What is the actual state of justice for these families behind the circus of presidential commissions and newly enacted transitional justice laws that seem to do nothing more than enable political mudslinging? 

Speaking to the media in April 2017, weeks after his 29-year-old son Yameen was killed by vigilantes, his father Hussein Rasheed had to speak words no parent would ever want to. His son’s throat had been cut, he said. “He’d been stabbed in 34 places.” Tears streamed down his cheeks from behind his thick black spectacles as he continued, “A part of his skull was missing.” Without a care for the sentiments of the grieving family, social media went into overdrive. Some cruelly shared leaked police photos of Yameen’s mutilated body. Opposition politicians (who now hold power after the 2018 elections) joined the chorus of condemnation against the killing. 

Fast forward to today, there are institutions mandated to serve justice and provide reparations and closure for these families who have had their lives put to the test. This is worthy of praise but meaningless if it is incapable of putting perpetrators behind bars. The main objective of such commissions is to prevent any chance of atrocities recurring. The present reality elucidates that their cases were steppingstones for Maldivian political animals who now conveniently promote the status quo after winning the vote and cushy new positions. 

The trials

Months after Yameen’s murder, the previous government was quick to prosecute the alleged killers. The hearings continued at lightning speed. One thing that came to my mind was: why is this a murder trial when the crime was an act of terrorism? If Rilwan’s alleged abductors were accused of terrorism, why aren’t the perpetrators of Yameen’s extrajudicial killing seen as terrorists who planned and executed someone based on perceived ideological grounds? The planning of the assassination took place in mosques in Malé. When this information became public through the reporting of the trial, Maldives Twitter protested that a place of worship was being sullied over this murder. They did not find it offensive that the sanctimonious surroundings were used to plot a cold-blooded killing of a person. 

Yameen and Rilwan’s mother in their quest for justice, Photo: IFJ

Eight individuals were suspected of killing Yameen. Six were charged and pleaded not guilty to murder. Prosecutors declined to press charges against the other two, including one who was initially accused of aiding and abetting. Perhaps giving a clue as to the possible plea bargaining that had gone on behind the scenes before the case reached the courtroom. 

For two years, since the trial began in 2017, activists had to pressure the previous government’s chief prosecutor to hold the hearings in open court. His family were repeatedly prevented from entering the courtroom, and the hearings were subject to regular cancellations. Exasperating the family still processing that their beloved had been ruthlessly slaughtered, and the plotters, enablers and active executors hid in plain sight. Almost all the hearings in 2018 were held in secrecy until July that year, despite growing calls to end the closed-door charades and open the trial. 

Then in November 2018, to the shock of many locals and observers alike, President Abdulla Yameen’s government lost the presidential election to the ruling party, Maldivian Democratic Party’s President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, leading a coalition consisting of defectors, dictator-loyalists and Islamists. The mix, politicians decided, would produce national unity after a long period of political turbulence that began in late 2011. Regardless of competing interests within the government, justice for past abuses was said to be prioritised. In 2019, defence lawyers began using delaying tactics to slow down and manipulate the judicial process. The State, too, was accused of failing to produce witnesses or defendants in time for the hearings. Prosecutors eked out excuses for delays, clueless as to why it was being stalled. 

“Those who organised and financed Rilwan’s abduction and Yameen’s murder,” the DDCom chair disclosed, “are the same.” This whirlwind of revelations was made in September 2019. It was even more precarious than that. Acknowledging publicly for the first time, the chair also confirmed that it was “local Al-Qaeda affiliates” that carried out these crimes, including the murder of an Islamic scholar and politician, Dr Afrasheem Ali, known for his relatively less conservative views on Islam that clashed with the fundamentalist positions held by more politically influential scholars and religious leaders. 

In late 2019, prosecutors complained in court that their witnesses were subject to undue influence, without making any direct accusations against the alleged perpetrators or their lawyers. The courtroom was dominated by the defence lawyers whose presence outsized the judge and the prosecution. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, the Criminal Court stopped scheduling hearings for the murder trial. Maldivian courts adjusted to the ‘new normal’ of COVID, switching to online hearings. The murder trial of Yameen, however, remained unheard throughout 2020. On 7 February 2021, the trial resumed after a hiatus of over a year. The new hearings bear the same characteristics as before:  delay tactics from defence lawyers, prosecutorial mishaps and judges rendered incapable of administering the trial.  

Yameen’s family urged the Prosecutor General to intervene, reminded of how Rilwan’s abductors were acquitted in August 2018, a few days before the third anniversary of his forced disappearance in 2014. There was just a month left before the presidential elections that would shift political dynamics in favour of the opposition coalition. President Abdulla Yameen had to tie up loose ends, fearing his government could be implicated in colluding with the terrorists who assassinated Dr Afrasheem Ali, disappeared Ahmed Rilwan forcefully, and murdered Yameen Rasheed on the same Jihadist ideological grounds. 

In his judgement acquitting Rilwan’s alleged abductors, the presiding judge, Adam Arif, blamed the police and prosecution for the incomplete investigation that enabled perpetrators to evade justice. The judge made it clear, in his damning verdict, that the state wilfully ignored credible leads and jettisoned basic procedures, giving way to the manipulation of the course of justice. As the government changed from blatant autocracy to a seeming democracy, prosecutors repeatedly promised Rilwan’s family that they would be appealing the acquittal. Yet, the appeal period elapsed, and nothing moved ahead as promised. A new or re-trial after the DDCom investigation also remains a promise.


President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih joins the march by family and friends demanding justice for Rilwan and Yameen on 23 April 2019. Photo: Maldives Independent

The new government was praised for its forthright stance on human rights even before it had done any constructive work, purely based on its aspirations to strengthen democracy after another period of autocratic reversal. The slow-moving pace of justice and fast-moving injustices continue and dampen any hope of holding perpetrators to account. Indeed, perpetrators include those who were in political office then that directly derailed the investigation; not just the radicalised individuals who carried out the acts of religious violence and persecution. 

Although the families may not experience finality for these horrific crimes, the only hope is that at least the findings of the DDCom will bring them closure. It must strive to do that before politics becomes turbulent ahead of the 2024 elections. Although none of these trials, investigations or even reparations compare to having Afrasheem, Rilwan and Yameen with us. At times, engaging with this farce appears like a perpetual re-victimisation for these families seeking justice. 

Sectarian violence might have been unheard of in the Maldives, but since 2008 and the birth of democracy, with its abuse, the most ardent enemies of liberty have been able to co-opt the benefits of the newfound freedoms. Why would ‘liberal democrats’ give credence to movements that want nothing but their complete destruction? Maldivians nostalgic for an open society can dream but we are stunted by the grief of losing these heroes who spoke out against violence and cultural erasure disguised as religion. Our syncretic and romanticised past, just that, “a mockery of the present” as the brave Yameen Rasheed said. 

An examined life: Yameen Rasheed


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.