On 19 May 2017, IPCS hosted Hussain Rasheed and Shauna Aminath for an interaction to discuss 'Maldives: Contextualising Freedom of Speech in the Murder of Yameen Rasheed'. Rasheed is the father of the slain Maldivian blogger, Yameen Rasheed. Aminath is a human rights activist and has previously served as an advisor to the Maldives' former President, Mohamed Nasheed.
The following is an overview of the remarks that were made during the course of the interaction.
Over the past five years, Yameen Rasheed had been receiving threats, mostly from fundamentalists in the Maldives who labeled his work as “un-Islamic.” While he had not shared much information about these threats with his family, he had reported them to the police.
There were approximately 16 wounds on his chest and three on his forehead, and perhaps more elsewhere. The police is investigating his murder and seven individuals have reportedly been arrested. Their identities have not been divulged, and the cause of their enmity is unknown. Whether they will ever be taken to court is unknown.
Currently, the safety of Yameen’s family members in the Maldives is nearly non-existent. The workings of the Maldives police cannot be banked upon, primarily because of their conduct in similar incidents in the past. In the past five years, there have been almost 18 such murder cases, and no one has been held guilty. This includes the killing of Dr Afrasheem Ali, an Islamic scholar and former member of parliament; and the abduction of Yameen’s friend, Ahmed Rilwan. They were killed in the name of Islam. Individuals arrested in connection to such cases are often not radicals but criminals and drug addicts, and most of them have been released. Reportedly, some of those individuals have gone to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS).
The present times are difficult for Maldivians who believe in freedom and ideas of justice and free speech. There is increased radicalisation of criminal gangs, huge threats to ideas of democracy, freedom and justice. All this is organised and well funded. Unfortunately, the authorities in the Maldives are not investing their resources to curb this. In fact, in 2016, the parliament passed the Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act, which criminalises defamation and slander. This Act has been used against journalists and media outlets that comment on the government or Islam; the Act seems to benefits radicals and those seeking to promote authoritarianism.
Yameen Rasheed was not killed just by individuals. He was killed due to an ideology. Such an ideology threatens not just the Maldives but also South Asia. The arguments in his blog, The Daily Panic, found loopholes in the arguments of radicals, and he pointed them out clearly. He criticised radical Islam, government corruption, and authoritarianism – all of which are slowly becoming the norm in the Maldives.
At present, the only hope is regarding young individuals, but they too are slowly getting engulfed in fear. Fear is very destructive. It makes fewer individuals open their minds or mouths due to the sense of insecurity. Radicals and opponents of democracy are benefitting from the high levels of fear that currently persist in the country.
Maldives is a small country where a lot of change is possible, but little is done. The international community is willing to spend a lot on climate change, but does not realise that the Maldives is even more threatened by authoritarianism at the moment.
a. The Maldivian government depends on radical elements for its own survival. In fact, incumbent President Abdulla Yameen's legitimacy also rests on his influence over institutions such as the police, military, judiciary, etc., all the heads of which are deeply conservative in nature. These institutions are influenced by the narrative that the other side is anti-Islam, and if they come in, religion will be threatened.
b. The present government has money, resources, and a control over radicals and gangsters, through which it threatens government opponents, and liberal writers such as Yameen Rasheed. It is important to spread awareness about what is taking place in the Maldives.
c. Liberals are unable to do anything because they do not have sufficient funds or the liberty to call meetings. In such a scenario, support from the international community for the limited NGOs and media organisations in the Maldives is very important.
Rapporteured by Husanjot Chahal, Researcher, SEARP, IPCS