Oc­cu­pa­tional Haz­ard

The Mal­dives is be­com­ing a dan­ger­ous place for jour­nal­ists, es­pe­cially those who are crit­i­cal of the pow­ers held by the po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious elite.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By If­fat Alam

One jour­nal­ist who made head­lines in the last few weeks was James Fo­ley, the Amer­i­can free­lancer cov­er­ing the civil war in Syria. He was ab­ducted by the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria two years ago. A video posted by the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion in Au­gust showed the bru­tal be­head­ing of Fo­ley, lead­ing to a world­wide up­roar against the ISIS.

As the world mourned Fo­ley’s mur­der, the jour­nal­ist com­mu­nity in the Mal­dives had is­sues of their own to be wor­ried about – Mal­di­vian jour­nal­ists were try­ing to come to grips with the ab­duc­tion of a lo­cal jour­nal­ist, Ahmed Ril­wan Ab­dulla, a 28-year-old re­porter, blog­ger and hu­man rights ac­tivist.

Ril­wan dis­ap­peared in the wee hours of Au­gust 8 when he was head­ing home from work. He lived in Hul­hu­male, an is­land near cap­i­tal Male. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports pub­lished in Mini­van News, the me­dia out­let Ril­wan was as­so­ci­ated with, he left his of­fice quite late, some­time after mid­night. He was last seen on a ferry ter­mi­nal in Male where he bought the ticket for Hul­hu­male. A CCTV cam­era in­stalled at the ter­mi­nal recorded his move­ments.

He was seen go­ing to­wards the board­ing area and although he was not seen board­ing the ferry, one of his tweets con­firmed that he was on his way to Hul­hu­male. An ac­tive mi­cro-blog­ger, he kept tweet­ing stuff for the next 20 min­utes – the time it takes to reach the is­land from Male. Ril­wan also sent a Viber mes­sage at around 1:42 am. How­ever, from then on, he went com­pletely silent. A clue to his where­abouts was of­fered by his tele­phone ser­vice provider, ac­cord­ing to whom his phone was last used at 2:36 am at a lo­ca­tion in Male. A search op­er­a­tion was con­ducted in both Male and Hul­hu­male but to no avail.

Ril­wan’s ab­duc­tion has yet again brought into fo­cus a rather dark truth about the Mal­di­vian so­ci­ety: the grow­ing rad­i­cal­ism that is grad­u­ally cast­ing its dark shadow over all seg­ments of so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing the me­dia. In the re­cent past, a num­ber of jour­nal­ists were tar­geted by ex­trem­ist groups. In its 2013 ‘Preda­tors of Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion’ re­port, the NGO Re­porters With­out Bor­ders ac­cused “lead­ers and mem­bers of

fa­nat­i­cal groups in the Mal­dives of in­tim­i­dat­ing me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions and blog­gers and threat­en­ing them with phys­i­cal harm in or­der to force them to ex­er­cise self-cen­sor­ship.” In 2012, a free­lance jour­nal­ist and blog­ger Is­mail Hi­lath Rasheed nar­rowly es­caped death when an at­tacker tried to slit his throat. Hi­lath blamed Is­lamic rad­i­cals for the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt and be­lieved that his pub­lic calls for re­li­gious tol­er­ance were the rea­son for the at­tack. He left the coun­try after the in­ci­dent and now lives abroad.

Ril­wan may have been ab­ducted for the same rea­son. His em­ployer be­lieves that Ril­wan “fit­ted the pro­file of the type of free­dom of ex­pres­sion that is be­ing tar­geted by vigilante ac­tors.” The fact that he worked for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has been blamed for “pro­duc­ing ir­re­li­gious con­tent” does not help mat­ters ei­ther. Apart from his jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer, Ril­wan was also a ‘pro­lific blog­ger’ and a fre­quent Twit­ter user. He was known for his lib­eral views in the Mal­di­vian bl­o­go­sphere as he would of­ten raise pointed ques­tions about is­sues that are best left un­touched, such as re­li­gion and dogma.

He did not shy away from ex­press­ing his opin­ions de­spite know­ing the con­se­quences, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the grow­ing rad­i­cal ten­den­cies in the coun­try. Mak­ing fun of the dou­ble stan­dards of the re­li­gious ex­trem­ists, he writes in one of his blog posts ’10 rea­sons why the World

Cup is haraam’: “Smoking is haraam, movies are haraam, mu­sic is haraam, sec­u­lar­ism and democ­racy is haraam, Tom and Jerry and Mickey Mouse are haraam, trav­el­ling with­out a mahram, show­ing hair and us­ing per­fume are all haraam for women. They protest over changes in al­co­hol reg­u­la­tions, when a Mus­lim con­verts, about the new cur­ricu­lum… they make Face­book

Ril­wan did not stop at ridi­cul­ing re­li­gious lead­ers. Politi­cians were also a tar­get of his mock­ery and con­dem­na­tion. In fact, it is be­ing hinted that his crit­i­cism of some po­lit­i­cal forces could have landed him in this trou­ble.

groups against their crit­ics… is­sued death threats against sec­u­lar­ists... etc. BUT! They fail to is­sue any ver­dict against the World Cup. They did not protest against it, in­stead they… bought TVs for their homes/shops, and started en­joy­ing the matches. You heard it. They are EN­JOY­ING a worldly sport.”

Ril­wan did not stop at ridi­cul­ing re­li­gious lead­ers. Politi­cians were also a tar­get of his mock­ery and con­dem­na­tion. In fact, it is be­ing hinted that his crit­i­cism of some po­lit­i­cal forces could have landed him in this trou­ble. Ac­cord­ing to Daniel Bosley, ed­i­tor of Mini­van News, Ril­wan would poke fun at the hypocrisy of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious lead­ers. "Per­haps he was tar­geted sim­ply be­cause he laughed at those in power,” Bosley said.

And per­haps this is why the pow­ers that be in the Mal­dives have given a luke­warm re­sponse to Ril­wan’s ab­duc­tion. On his re­turn to the coun­try after his China so­journ, Mal­di­vian Pres­i­dent, Ab­dul­lah Yameen re­sponded to en­quiries from jour­nal­ists re­gard­ing Ril­wan’s dis­ap­pear­ance in this man­ner: “A jour­nal­ist is miss­ing, I think. So work will be done to find the jour­nal­ist, right? And, God will­ing, that will be suc­cess­ful.” This state­ment re­sulted in a bar­rage of crit­i­cism di­rected at the pres­i­dent for his in­dif­fer­ence to an is­sue that has re­ceived con­sid­er­able world­wide at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially from in­ter­na­tional press free­dom groups such as Re­porters With­out Bor­ders, CPJ, IFJ and South Asia Me­dia Sol­i­dar­ity Net­work and even from the UNHRC.

The pic­ture be­comes even more se­ri­ous in light of the threats re­ceived by var­i­ous jour­nal­ists, MPs as well as fam­ily mem­bers of Ril­wan after his ab­duc­tion. Chill­ingly, all the threats were linked to Ril­wan’s ab­duc­tion and the sender of the threats did not try to con­ceal this fact. Aishath Aniya, a jour­nal­ist work­ing with Mini­van 95, re­ceived a mes­sage from a sender called ‘ISIS’ stat­ing, “You are next on our hit list. Be care­ful when you walk alone. #(ex­ple­tive)moy­amee­haa”. Ril­wan went by the alias ‘Moy­ame­haa’ on the so­cial me­dia. Sim­i­larly, Adam Haleem, Ed­i­tor of Vnews, re­ceived a death threat say­ing, “If you keep be­hav­ing how­ever you like, we will make you dis­ap­pear, we will behead you. Keep that in mind (ex­ple­tive)”. A few of Ril­wan’s rel­a­tives also re­ceived threats from some un­known peo­ple, who warned them not to pur­sue Ril­wan’s case.

It goes to the credit of both the Mal­di­vian me­dia and the fam­ily of the ab­ducted jour­nal­ist that they have held their ground and are united in de­mand­ing Ril­wan’s safe re­turn de­spite such threats and in­tim­i­dat­ing tac­tics. Now with the Mal­dives Na­tional De­fence Forces com­ing to the aid of the po­lice au­thor­i­ties in solv­ing what is be­ing termed as “the most com­pli­cated in­ves­ti­ga­tion ever faced by the ser­vice,” it is hoped that the trail will end on a pos­i­tive note.

Ril­wan’s ab­duc­tion also calls for in­tro­spec­tion by all el­e­ments of so­ci­ety – the gov­ern­ment, the politi­cians, the me­dia and the peo­ple – of where the coun­try is headed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.