By Zaheena Rasheed
Maldivian journalists have expressed grave concern over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla and called for an end to intimidation of the press.
In an unprecedented joint statement on Saturday, media outlets expressed solidarity and said Rilwan’s abduction is threat to all of Maldives.
“Abduction and disappearance of individuals do not stop with journalists. This is a threat to every individual, every family and all of the Maldives,” the statement read.
Efforts have been made by various parties to silence the press, including assault, murder attempts, vandalism of property and torching of TV stations, the statement noted.
“Now, a journalist has disappeared without a trace. Information we have gathered so far strongly suggests Rilwan was abducted,” it said.
The statement comes after several journalists from various media organisations spoke with eyewitnesses in Hulhumalé who claimed to have seen a man being forced into a car at knifepoint on the night of Rilwan’s disappearance.
Today is the 15th day since Rilwan is believed to have gone missing.
Both print and broadcast media signed the statement. They include Minivan News, Haveeru, Sun, CNM, Vaguthu, Dhuvas, Raajje TV, DhiTV, VTV, DhiFM, Channel One and Jazeera TV.
Media groups noted the state has failed to take adequate action against those who intimidate the press.
“As intimidation of press grows, and attacks against journalists, equipment, and buildings continue, we are extremely concerned over the delays in bringing to justice those who commit these acts. We note that the investigation of Rilwan’s case is slow and that information has not been adequately shared with the media and the public,” the statement said.
No one has been prosecuted for the October torching of Raajje TV, while two years have passed since charges were pressed against two individuals suspected of assaulting Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.
The state’s failure to end press intimidation allows extremism of all forms to grow stronger, the statement added.
The Maldives Police Services have pledged to treat Rilwan’s disappearance as a “top priority case” and said the army is now assisting the police in their search. Police have failed to reveal details of the investigation.
In a May report, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission said 84 percent of reporters in the Maldives have reported being threatened at least once, often by political parties, gangs and religious extremists.
Media groups today urged the state to make the relevant policies to ensure the right to live and work without fear is enjoyed by all Maldivians.
“Even though different media outlets have different editorial policies, we, all journalists, are one family,” the statement said.
Pledging to do all necessary to secure freedom of the press, media groups said: “And though we continue to face dangers from radical and extremist groups, this is not a danger we alone face. We will not step back, or put down our pens, or silence our tongues or hold our thoughts in the face of such threats.”
Expressing gratitude for the solidarity, Minivan News Managing Editor Daniel Bosley said: “We, as journalists, are a community which rightly includes differing political opinions – and even different nationalities. But we have to send a message that we are one community nevertheless, and I strongly believe that this statement does that.”
Media groups have set up a committee to pressure the state to expedite investigations into Rilwan’s disappearance and end intimidation of the press. Planned activities include meetings with stakeholders on Rilwan’s disappearance, increased coverage and talk shows about the threats against media.
International groups, including the Office for the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) and Reporters Without Borders have called for a speedy and thorough investigation.
The OCHR has urged the relevant authorities to address threats and intimidation of the press, while the International Federation of Journalists said the government must determine the circumstances of his disappearance as a “matter of urgency.”
The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists urged the authorities “to leave no stone unturned” in their efforts to find him.
Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family have offered a reward of MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for information leading to his successful return.