Sri Lankans Join Call For Intl. Probe On Yameen’s Murder

by Easwaran Rutnam

  • The activists also called on the Maldivian government to ensure the protection of bloggers, journalists and civil society activists
  • Diplomatic missions based in Colombo, including the US and French embassies also condemned the killing

The brutal killing of a Maldivian blogger recently has led to calls for an independent, international investigation, a push supported by Sri Lankan activists.

On Sunday, 23 April, a prominent blogger and social media activist in the Maldives, Yameen Rasheed, was found in the stairwell of his residence with multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and body. Rasheed died of his injuries.

Rasheed had in December reported to the Maldives Police Service that he was receiving targeted death threats following the publication of his photo along with those of others on an anonymous Facebook page but he complained that he had to follow up for three days just to get a confirmation that his complaint had been registered.

Rasheed was at the forefront of a campaign to seek justice for journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared in 2014 and is believed to have been abducted by radicalized criminal gangs.

Sri Lankan civil society activists, bloggers, social media producers and journalists, condemned the murder.

“Yameen was one of the most prominent bloggers and social media activists in Maldives. He was a critic of those who espoused violent extremist values and government corruption. He has also worked tirelessly to pressure local authorities and international organisations to investigate into the disappearance of his close friend and journalist Ahmad Rilwan,” several Sri Lankan civil society activists, bloggers, social media producers and journalists said in a joint statement.

The joint statement noted that there is a concerted effort to silence government critics and those who speak out against radical Islam, and those who promote violent extremism.

The Sri Lankan activists called on the Maldivian government and law enforcement authorities, with international participation, to conduct a credible, transparent and expedient investigation into Yameen’s murder.

The Sri Lankan government was called on to condemn the murder of Yameen Rasheed and the handling of the case by law enforcement authorities, and closely monitor the investigations until those responsible are held accountable.

The activists also called on the Maldivian government to ensure the protection of bloggers, journalists and civil society activists, and end the culture of impunity and the atmosphere of censorship that is enveloping the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the United Nations raised concerns following the murder of the social media activist in the Maldives, Yameen Rasheed.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the High Commissioner’s office is deeply alarmed by Rasheed’s killing and urged the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the murder is prompt, thorough and that the perpetrators are brought to justice in line with international human rights laws and standards.

Rasheed’s killing comes in the context of what appears to be an upsurge in arrests and prosecutions of the political opposition.

“We call on the authorities to take steps to remedy the shrinking space for exercise of the freedom of expression. We remind the State that it has a duty to ensure that journalists, civil society actors and human rights defenders are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and opinion without fear for their safety. Where such individuals have been explicitly threatened, the government should take urgent measures to ensure their protection,” Shamdasani said.

Diplomatic missions based in Colombo, including the US and French embassies also condemned the killing.

“We offer his family our condolences and call on the Maldivian authorities to thoroughly investigate this heinous act. France reiterates its commitment to fundamental rights and the freedom of expression,” the French Embassy in Colombo said.

The Maldives government also condemned the murder of Yameen Rasheed.

“In his death we have lost a young, energetic, voice full of potential that contributed heavily, and responsibly, to the social and political discourse of our nation. He was a socially conscious, civic minded, talented, creative, courageous and impassioned young soul – everything the youth of this nation should aspire to be and more. He will always be recognised as a proponent of change; especially, but not just limited to, his active, and iridescent, presence on social media and his more recent work on an app to drive and sustain blood donations. Yameen was passionate in harnessing technology and innovation for the greater good. A nation mourns a great loss, along with Yameen’s family, his friends and all those closest to him,” the Maldives government said.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom sent his condolences to Yameen Rasheed’s family, condemning the act of his murder.

President Yameen said he had instructed all State agencies and his cabinet, and calls upon all independent institutions, to fully deploy their resources in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice.

“We will not stand idly by while such acts of hatred are forced upon our citizens. I implore anyone with information, however little, to come forward to the authorities. We will deliver justice for the sake of Yameen’s family, his friends, his community and his entire nation.” President Yameen said.


Blogger’s Father Seeks Foreign Probe

The father of the murdered Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed pleaded for an international investigation, saying he had no confidence in the government to deliver justice.

Hussain Rasheed, 54, was speaking in Sri Lanka where he was meeting foreign diplomats to put pressure on the Maldives government to carry out an independent investigation.

A tearful Rasheed described seeing the body of his 29-year-old son, who had been murdered hours earlier at his home by unidentified attackers.

“His throat was slit, there were 14 stab injuries that I counted, but later we saw he had been stabbed in 35 places and part of his skull was missing,” Rasheed told reporters in Colombo.

The government has promised an investigation, but Rasheed said he could not trust them to deliver justice.

“I heard about 18 people have been killed in the Maldives like this in the past three years, but no one has been prosecuted.”

Yameen Rasheed, who poked fun at the nation’s politicians on his blog The Daily Panic, was found in the stairwell of his Male apartment with multiple stab wounds to his chest and neck. He died in hospital.

He had lodged complaints with the police about death threats he had received in December, but they were not taken seriously.

On Friday his father said Maldives police had acted suspiciously, washing down the scene of the crime and having the blood-splattered wall repainted. They also prevented anyone from taking pictures.

(Courtesy PTI) 


Maldives Slides On Press Freedom Index

The Maldives has fallen five places in the France-based Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index after a new law criminalised defamation and allowed the authorities to shut down media outlets.

The Maldives is now ranked 117 out of 180 countries, down from 112 the previous year.

Based on developments during the past year, RSF said the government continues to ‘persecute the independent media’ and that many journalists have been the target of death threats from political parties, criminal gangs and religious extremists.

“This poisonous climate reinforces self-censorship,” the organisation observed.

“Refusal by the authorities to investigate journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance in 2014 speaks to the climate of violence and impunity in which journalists operate.”

The release of this year’s index comes after the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed, a human rights defender who was leading the campaign to find the missing Maldives Independent journalist Rilwan, who was abducted at knifepoint in August 2014.

Earlier this month, the broadcasting regulator meanwhile slapped an MVR1 million (US$64,850) fine on Raajje TV for airing a speech at an opposition rally that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.

If the fine is not paid before May 6, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission could suspend or cancel the opposition-aligned station’s broadcasting license. The fine must also be paid in full before the regulator’s decision could be appealed to a court.

The hefty fine came on the day Raajje TV paid an MVR200,000 fine imposed last month in the first punitive action taken under the controversial 2016 defamation law.

According to regulations enacted under the law, media outlets can be fined between MVR50,000 (US$3,200) and MVR500,000 (US$32,400) for a first offence, and up to MVR2 million (US$129,700) after the third offence.

The re-criminalisation of defamation was widely condemned as an attack on free speech. A consensus emerged among the Maldivian media that the law would be the death knell of press freedom in the country.

Journalists say they are now forced to practice self-censorship to avoid lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

Three Raajje TV journalists have also been found guilty of obstructing police duty and handed fines. They became the first journalists to be convicted in the Maldives in more than a decade.

The prosecution of the journalists was in stark contrast to the lack of justice for the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, and the near-fatal beating of the station’s former news head.

The Maldives is now ranked between Mali and Guatemala on the 2017 index.

Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th.

The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration – rising to 51st and 52nd respectively.

However, the Maldives slid to 103rd in 2012 and 108th in 2013, falling further to 112th in the 2014 index.

Of other South Asian countries, Bhutan and Nepal are ranked the highest at 83 and 100, respectively. Other neighbouring countries are ranked below the Maldives with India on 136, Pakistan on 139, Sri Lanka on 141, and Bangladesh on 146.

Three Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden and Finland – topped the RSF index while Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan were the worst performers at the other end of this year’s scale.

 (Courtesy Maldives Independent)


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