THE brutal killing of an online activist in the Maldives is a “direct attack” on freedom of expression and should act as a “wake up call to authorities” to take threats against activists seriously, according to Amnesty International.
Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death in the early hours of Sunday morning, police said. According to Reuters, the prominent blogger was found in the stairwell of his apartment building in Male with 14 stab wounds to the chest and one each to the neck and face.
Rights group Amnesty International called on Maldives authorities to immediately investigate the brutal killing and bring those responsible to justice.
“This shocking killing of Yameen Rasheed not only shows contempt for human life, but it is also a direct attack on the human right to freedom of expression,” said Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher.
“Authorities in Maldives cannot let this crime go unpunished – they must immediately investigate the killing and hold those responsible to account.”
Rasheed was an outspoken critic of both leading politicians and religious extremism. His blog, The Daily Panic, had gathered a large following for its witty reporting and cutting satire of what Rasheed called “the frequently unsatirisable politics” of the country, home to about 340,000 Sunni Muslims.
Rasheed had complained to the police in the past that he had received death threats following several articles he had written criticising radical Islam, but no measures were taken to protect the blogger prior to his death.
Blomqvist called for Rasheed’s death to be a wake-up call to the police and their handling of such situations.
“This attack must also be a wake-up call to authorities to take threats against activists seriously. The government should investigate the police’s failure to protect Yameen Rasheed’s life, and urgently implement lessons to ensure that such attacks are not repeated. Police must ensure that all threats are investigated and that those who need it receive protection.’’
Islamic extremism is on the rise in the Maldives. Authorities have seen a significant number of radicalised youths from the island nation enlist to fight for Islamic State in the Middle East. Three Western diplomats told Reuters that moderate Islamists have been threatened via social media for their “anti-Islamic” views.
There has also been simmering political tensions since a 2012 coup ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, and spiked again in March after an attempt by the opposition to impeach the country’s parliamentary speaker.
UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has criticised the government in the past for the onerous defamation laws introduced by President Abdulla Yameen, and journalists on the islands have warned of an atmosphere of intimidation.
Blomqvist warned that the killing of Rasheed has “taken place against a backdrop of growing restrictions on public debate in Maldives” and accused the authorities of “harassing peaceful journalists, activists and media outlets.”
“This crackdown has intensified in recent weeks and must end immediately,” he said. “Authorities should protect those who speak out, not try to criminalise them.”
Additional reporting by Reuters