Today, I have been tasked with writing about the disappearance of my dear friend, Ahmed Rilwan. From the very onset I would like to clarify that this is not an obituary. I, like all his well wishers, would like to continue to believe that he is alive and well, and would be returned to us soon.
Rilwan was no madman, although his pseudonym ‘moyameeha’ might suggest otherwise. Soft spoken and mild mannered, he might come off as shy on first impression. However, in his writing, he displayed the passion and courageousness of a daredevil. He dared to question where questions were unwelcome. He dared to learn about subjects where learning was taboo. He displayed a brutal honesty and passion in writing about his knowledge and observations, which has proved life threatening.
It has been one year since Rilwan’s disappearance. There is no point in repeating the official information or lack thereof, about the investigation into his disappearance. The story of the mysterious abduction on the night of his disappearance, the inconclusive forensic results, the unidentified red car, the mysterious escape of some suspects of all places to Syria, are stories that we are all too familiar with. We hope, albeit apprehensively, that the recent shift in power in the government would shed more light on the issue.
Rilwan may have been bolder than the rest of us in exercising his freedom of speech. He might have hurt the egos of many individuals and groups in the process. However, that does not give any state institution the right to be negligent in investigating into the suspicious circumstances behind a citizen’s disappearance. This also does not give members of the public, the right to validate the negligence of authorities, by citing Rilwan’s perspective on certain sensitive issues as excuses.
Since his disappearance it has become even more evident that the Maldivian society does not tolerate the freedoms it demands. The fact that many of Rilwan’s fellow coworkers have been threatened with death, only adds fuel to speculations that his disappearance maybe related to his line of work. Another fact remains that Rilwan’s family has been facing obstructions in their efforts to keep looking for answers. They have been accused of politicizing the issue, while it is obvious that any family in the same situation would accept help from anyone willing to lend a hand.
Nevertheless, life has continued as it always had; steadily and uncertainly. Events have taken a turn that would shame Rilwan and his fellow pioneers in bringing free speech to the Maldivian mainstream. Propaganda throws a blanket on every important decision that would affect and enrage the masses. Freedom fighters are being coerced into a life of silence, while politicians are being slowly transformed into Orwellian antagonists.
Regardless of the recent pledge by police that they will continue investigating into the case “no matter how long it takes”, we cannot help but be skeptical. This seems to be one of those cases that some people want to sweep under the rug. They want Rilwan’s family too to accept defeat like several other families.
However, Rilwan’s family, friends and colleagues refuse to be coerced into silence. We have withstood the test of time and efforts at criminalizing their demands. We are not just searching for Rilwan, but searching for every forgotten citizen in the country. We are seeking to set a precedent that would allow families to question law enforcement authorities on their reluctance to reveal information about their investigations in similar cases.
We now need to question if the Maldives Police Service has the capacity to solve such crimes. We need to question how the millions being used to train police in modern crime solving tactics such as forensics, are being put to good use. Criminals are depending on ever evolving technologies to commit these crimes. We need to ensure that police have the capacity to counter these criminals using the same weapons.
We also need to ensure that law enforcement bodies and relevant state institutions are not puppets to criminal organizations. We need to ensure that no citizen’s rights are conveniently ‘forgotten’ by authorities due to pressure, especially from criminal organizations.
Today it is Rilwan’s disappearance that we mourn and question. But tomorrow it might be another individual from another family, who might not have been a popular, high profile journalist with the connections that Rilwan had. Does this allow authorities to conveniently mark it as a missing person’s case, even circumstances suggest otherwise?
It is to ensure that such incidences never repeat itself that, one year after his disappearance, we beg authorities to put more of an effort into their investigation. We are not giving up. We are not holding a funeral. We are not writing obituaries. We demand justice. We need closure. We have not forgotten.