A ‘freethinking’ secularist blogger has been stabbed to death in the Maldives. It’s a tragedy which demonstrates again that in the Maldives, democracy and justice are crumbling under pressure from a power-crazed president and Islamist extremism.
Yameen Rasheed (29) was well-known in the Maldives as a satirist, taking shots at the government, or at Islamist radicals, all the time promoting the values of secularism and democracy that he obviously held dear.
He was found dead in the early hours of Sunday morning, stabbed to death in the stairwell of his apartment.
The IHEU met Yameen Rasheed earlier this year, during his visit to the Human Rights Council with Forum Asia. He spoke on a panel with Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who herself survived a machete attack in 2015 during which her husband Avijit Roy was killed.
IHEU Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth’s O’Casey, kept in touch with Rasheed after meeting him at the event. Rasheed updated the IHEU on death threats against himself and other secularists, and IHEU raised his case with Ahmed Shaheed (the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief).
“I have just heard the horrific news that the world has lost an incredibly intelligent, articulate, kind and courageous man: Yameen Rasheed. I liked him enormously, although I did not know him well enough – to my eternal regret,” said Elizabeth O’Casey today. “And he has now been brutally murdered. And the secularist human rights community has lost yet another light, another blogger and activist, and the world is darker because of it.”
The IHEU joins Forum Asia and PEN International in calling for a full, transparent, impartial investigation, and supports the call by opposition figures for international involvement in the inquiry.
A brave voice, brutally silenced. Only an impartial & open investigation with international participation can provide justice for @yaamyn.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) April 23, 2017
Since he came to power in a dubious election in 2013, many of President Abudulla Yameen’s political opponents have been arrested, jailed or forced into exile. The regime has made taboo the exercise of freedom of expression, especially the expression of liberal and secular views or any criticism of how the Maldives enforces Islamic practices. The regime also increasingly flatters Islamist demands, even as Saudi Arabia pumps money into spreading its own conservative vision of religion, funding visits by its religious leaders and sponsoring Maldivan students to study in Saudi Arabia.
President Yameen in one statement said that he condemned Rasheed’s killing “in the harshest possible terms”. But later, also in an apparent response to the murder, the president said that the Maldives would not allow anyone to mock Islam.
IHEU President, Andrew Copson, responds:
“The murder of Yameen Rasheed is shocking. And it does not come from a vacuum.
“We have been monitoring for several years the Maldives’ democratic decline, the rise of Islamist radicals, and the government’s slide into promoting conservative Islamism.
“And yet government officials are now engaged in victim-blaming, turning responsibility for Yameen Rasheed’s murder back on himself. Read his work and you will see a young man who was a freethinker, a secularist, who cared about making the world a better place, in particular his home country. His murder should wake others up! To use his death as an excuse to attack the humanists and liberals and all those who engage in democratic discussion, as the Maldivan president is now doing, is shameful and perverse.”
Despite its prior reputation as a tourist paradise, the Maldives receives the worst possible rating across three out of four categories in the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report, which notes that: “Maldvies has been described as undergoing a battle between liberal and literal interpretations of Islam, with serious human rights violations linked to fundamentalists including youth groups, and attacks on perceived atheists and homosexuals in recent years.”
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, tweeted yesterday:
— Ahmed Shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) April 23, 2017
And this morning, referring to President Yameen’s victim-blaming:
Condemn in the strongest terms attempts to create ‘moral panic’ about free thinkers as a response to the murder of blogger! @andrewcopson
— Ahmed Shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) April 24, 2017
On his partly-satirical blog The Daily Panic, which he described as “the last remaining bastion of journalistic integrity in the Maldives”, and in his popular Twitter account, Yameen Rasheed criticised the government, condemned the spread of radical Islamism, and championed the causes of others who have suffered under a ‘crackdown’ on freedom and democracy across the Maldivan islands.
Various bloggers, journalists and activists have been kidnapped, attacked or ‘disappeared’ in recent years. Rasheed was himself a leading organiser of the Find Moyameehaa campaign, to find his friend, fellow blogger, Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared in 2014. In April he attended a rally, along with Rilwan’s mother demanding government action.
“Yameen is a brilliant critic of the corrupt Maldivian political system as his weekly satirical blog roundups testify.
“He is a fierce critic of the Salafi-Wahhabi re-Islamisation that is remaking the face of Islam in the Maldives. He has consistently criticised violent Salafi-Jihadism that has recently emerged in the Maldives.
“Yameen is a democrat. He is a humanist. He is a young critical rationalist. Like his best friend Rilwan, he is a master of irony and satire. He is a great writer and blogger.
“He is no doubt a very bright mind, an enormously kind heart.”