Featured image courtesy The Wired/Charlie Surbey
The start of August saw silent vigils in Male – the capital of the Maldives – to mark the 100th day since the death of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed, who was assassinated in his apartment building on April 23, 2017.
No less than 37 stab wounds had been recorded on his body at the time of death.
“I don’t want to believe that the murder of my brother Yameen is politically instigated, but actions of politicians speak otherwise”, Aishath Rasheed, Yameen’s sister who also worked for the Maldivian Police, said.
Yameen had been receiving death threats since 2010, a good seven years before the attack, including from several supporters of the government. Yameen lodged police complaints against them continuously. He formally lodged complaints twice with the Police and several times through Twitter tagging the official police Twitter handle. “But they have not even been questioned. They are rich people with growing businesses, and they seem to be immune to the system,” Aishath explained.
“The Government is hostile towards victim’s families. If they have not done anything wrong, why act so hostile?” she questioned. “We have not received a word of condolence from those in power, still. No official letter or phone call. No government MP, not even the representative from our own constituency has come forward.” Even one of her father’s friends, an MP in parliament, has in no capacity, either professional or personal, publicly expressed his condolences.
Altogether eight suspects were identified in relation to the murder of Yameen. Maldives Police recently declared that three people were at Yameen’s building on April 23, one of whom had been outside the building on the lookout, while the other two actively carried out the assassination. According to the police, the duo turned the CCTV cameras away, switched off the lights, and waited for Yameen.
One of the eight suspects arrested is currently under house arrest. The Police have stated that though they have filed charges at the Prosecutor General’s Office against all eight, charges were forwarded only against seven of the suspects. The individual under house arrest has not been charged.
A week after Yameen’s death, his friends, family and the public signed a petition demanding an independent investigation. But they were told that each individual must bring their own copy of the petition and hand it over, instead of one submitting the petition carrying all the signatures. “So, we did. But then they ridiculed my father, who was running around trying to get justice for his son murdered a week ago, and said that he was harassing the police,” Aishath said.
Her claims against the Police begins on the night of the assassination. Yameen was murdered around 2.45 am when he was entering the elevator of his apartment building. Aishath lives in the same building, in an apartment on a floor above Yameen’s on the second floor. However, she said that she was not informed of the murder of her brother until her father, who lived in a separate island, called her around 4.30am with the news. “The response from the investigating officer is that they protected the crime scene. The police didn’t share with us what they found that night. The house owner was informed around six in the morning.”
She also questions the reasons for not calling an ambulance to take Yameen to the hospital that night. Though Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital is two minutes away from the building, the Police responded that the ambulance would have taken a long time to come, and had taken the almost six foot tall Yameen to the hospital in a police car. “When someone called Police Hotline and notified them of a severely bleeding man, should they not send the ambulance along with the police car? Three police vehicles arrived that night, one after the other, except for the ambulance,” she said. By the time Yameen was taken in to the hospital, he was already dead.
Aishath said that the investigation immediately following her brother’s murder was not thorough. “They didn’t search the building,” she said. The landlord informed her that as soon as the police secured tapes of the CCTV Cameras for the night, they showed little interest in the crime scene. Aishath said she confronted the investigating officer who had said that though it’s a big crime, the crime scene is small, and thus all evidence was secured in a short period of time.
Aishath said that the politicians and the police were quick to label Yameen as an atheist, and provide a reason for his murder, making him a target for others to attack him. “On April 23, the President said that the motive for Yameen’s murder could be radical Islamists who believed Yameen should die. Last week, the Police echoed the same sentiments in their report,” Aishath said.
The police were quoted in local media stating that the investigation revealed that “the perpetrators do not accept anyone that mocks religion. The probe did not reveal whether any political or otherwise affiliated associations had any hand in Yameen Rasheed’s death.”
The police in their last press briefing stated that the attackers believed that Yameen was irreligious and therefore should be murdered. “My brother was not un-Islamic. He was against Islamic fundamentalism.”
Yameen’s family has filed a case at the UN and also filed a case at the civil court for negligence against the police requesting an independent investigation and complained to the Human Rights Commission in Maldives as well as the National Integrity Commission when they heard evidence was being destroyed. However, the Police continue to maintain their stance that no evidence has been destroyed.
Aishath recently lost her job at the Maldivian Police Service for taking part in a protest demanding justice for the disappearance of journalist Rilwan three years ago. Rilwan was a close friend of Yameen’s. Police claimed that the gathering was political.
Aishath, being the breadwinner of the family, is in need of employment, but her mind is occupied with the death of her brother. “All I know is that I was sleeping upstairs when my brother was murdered. I couldn’t protect him. That’s my reality for every day to come.”
This article was produced during an Internews training program.