Acquittal of Suspects in Case of Disappeared Journalist, a Travesty of Justice – MDP

3 August 2018, MALE: The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemns the Criminal Court’s decision yesterday to acquit defendants accused of abducting journalist Ahmed Rilwan in 2014.

The MDP believes that the acquittal of Alif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen is a travesty of justice, and another example of the Government of Maldives covering up Rilwan’s disappearance and presumed murder.

President Yameen is directly implicated in the cover-up. The 2016 Al Jazeera documentary, Stealing Paradise, exposed text messages from the President to then Home Secretary Umar Naseer instructing him “not to be overwhelmed by Rilwan case,” — clear evidence that President Yameen impeded the investigation into Rilwan’s abduction.

Rilwan was a prominent investigative journalist and human rights advocate working for the Maldives Independent at the time of his abduction. From day one, the police have tried to derail the investigation, denying links between reported abduction on 8 August 2014 and Rilwan’s forced disappearance for two years. Family, friends, colleagues and civil society actors have consistently and concertedly stated that he was forced into a red car at knife-point on the night he was last seen and urged to follow crucial and publicly observable leads to the case.

There were unjustifiable delays to the trial and key suspects were allowed to flee the country. The trial was designed to allow remaining perpetrators evade due punishment. The two who were charged, Alif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen, accused of forced disappearance under anti-terror laws, remained free throughout the trial.

The Police even ran a smear campaign against the family and friends of the victims, giving full impunity to violent groups threatening them. Rilwan’s family and colleagues accuse law enforcement of attempting to change the course of the investigation by suggesting Rilwan left the Maldives on his own volition.

During the trial the authorities helped undermine the DNA evidence that corroborated Rilwan was forced into the car. The experts summoned to court were not the forensic specialists who administered the DNA analysis. Furthermore, the prosecution conveniently failed to follow due process in ensuring the chain of custody of the forensics analysis.

Furthermore, the authorities refrained from following set procedures in ensuring the defendants were cross-checked by those who gave witness statements during the investigation. There was no evidence submitted in relation to the knife that was found on the crime scene by officers who were there when Rilwan’s neighbours reported the alleged abduction. Additionally, the prosecution did not submit evidence that showed whom the car belonged to, failing to link the defendants to the alleged forced disappearance. One of the suspects, Rauf, had admitted in a pre-trial statement that the car was registered under his name.

The judgment highlights that the police and prosecution were negligent during the investigation and trial. The prosecution made no requests for mis-trial despite the clear conflicts of interest arising from the fact that the judge and defence lawyer were public prosecutors when Rilwan’s case was sent for prosecution in late 2014.

The MDP believes justice for Rilwan’s violent abduction can only be delivered through an independent and transparent forum where the negligence of the Maldives Police Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the judiciary can clearly be reflected and considered.

The timing of the sentence, a few days before 4-year anniversary of Rilwan’s abduction, and a month before presidential elections, also serves as an insult to the grieving family, cautioning others who might attempt to find out what happened to Rilwan.

The State’s failure to investigate death threats and attacks against liberal figures, including Rilwan, resulted in the subsequent murder of prominent blogger Yameen Rasheed, a close friend of Rilwan’s, who led the campaign calling for justice. Rilwan’s forced disappearance is the third attack against Maldivian liberal voices in recent years where violent extremists have been implicated.