In December 2011, a small group of Maldivians gathered at the Artificial Beach, in silent protest against the denial of Human Rights in the Maldives. They were physically attacked almost immediately. One of the protesters, blogger Hilath Rasheed, sustained injuries.
It is now exactly four years since that day. Hilath Rasheed suffered a near fatal attempt on his life in 2012, and has moved abroad and been silenced.
Another participant at the protest, blogger and journalist Ahmed Rilwan, was forcibly disappeared in August 2014.
Yet another participant, Aminath Sulthona – who took photographs of the assailants that day – has since fled the country, and sought asylum abroad.
Today is the International Human Rights Day – and the Maldives continues to be a grim, hostile place for human rights defenders. To this day, Maldives Police Service have made no efforts to investigate either the December 2011 attack, or the subsequent murder attempt on Hilath, or Rilwan’s disappearance. Heck, they have refused to respond to my own formal complaints about death threats.
Below is an article I wrote the day after the attack, in December 2011 (very lightly edited for spelling, etc.)
Originally published: Dec 11, 2011
Yesterday, a bunch of five or so bearded thugs were sent to the Artificial Beach in Malé to attack a gathering of silent protesters who were seated in protest against the lack of Religious freedom in the Maldives.
And they did this.
Here’s how it happened:
A group of non-anonymous, vocally liberal, secular-minded Maldivians reached out to each other on Facebook. (And no. I promise I was not involved this time)
They had the same concerns as any other thinking, humane and considerate human being in the world would have about the lack of religious freedom and the oppression of minorities in the Maldives. In particular, they took the example of Ismail Mohamed Didi, the young non-Muslim air traffic controller who was driven to suicide in July 2010 after facing immense social pressure from the Maldivian society.
Knowing full well the dangers of standing up for something in a society as pig-headed as the Maldives, they nevertheless went ahead and decided to stage a silent protest on the Human Rights day, demanding Freedom of Religion.
One of them, Dhona, made a short video to publicize the event, which of course caught the attention of intolerant nitwits, too many of whom have an internet connection.
It also caught the eye of two of our honourable MPs, who I shall not yet name. Let’s just say they both belong to this certain political party that is run by a certain former autocratic ruler.
These two honorable MPs summoned Dhona via a mutual contact to a ‘meeting’ on Thursday to discuss what this planned protest was about. By the time she went, however, there was only one of them there.
Dhona told the MP exactly what had been planned – a group of Maldivians were going to gather at the Artificial beach, and sit in silent protest for the cause of freedom. The MP, for reasons not entirely clear to me, tried to dissuade her from “organizing” the event, going so far as to quote scripture. It didn’t work.
On her way back, however, the mutual contact who had been present throughout the conversation told Dhona to avoid going to the assembly, as things could get ugly. He also told her, about two days in advance, that they would target Hilath.
Oh yeah. When I said the bearded thugs were sent, I did mean they were sent. By who, I do not know.
Anyway, the group wasn’t intimidated by the threat and went ahead with the plans. They assembled outside a fast food restaurant near the beach, as the main stage had been booked by a certain political party run by a former dictator.
Hilath called me at a few minutes past four to say there was a group meeting up and if I was joining. I would have, but I was busy working, so I didn’t.
Less than 25 minutes later, I’m informed that he’s seriously hurt. The hired pseudo-religious thugs arrived out of the blue. Without any provocation or notice, they went straight to attack Hilath, kicking him on the chest and aiming for the head with stones.
Dhona had the presence of mind to whip out her phone camera and start taking pictures, even as she was being threatened.
Hilath bled a lot, as seen in the pictures. In the struggle that ensued, some others suffered minor injuries.
The police arrived, but by then the thugs had apparently left, but not before issuing more threats. One guy in particular, didn’t like the fact that he was being photographed. In fact, he didn’t like it to the extent that he has threatened to kill anyone who leaked his photograph.
So naturally, here’s his photograph.
Even after the police arrived, I’m told there was some confrontation. One man was openly threatening the girl with violence, saying the police couldn’t stop him. This was, of course, said within the policeman’s earshot and he didn’t do a thing. In the Maldives, religion gives everyone a license to threaten / hurt / kill.
Hilath was taken away on a friend’s motor bike to the hospital where received stitches on his head.
Since the police at the scene seemed to think it was too beautiful a day to engage in mundane tasks like gathering witnesses or taking statements, three of the attendees decided to go to the police HQ itself to have the case reported.
They showed the cops pictures of the attack in progress, as well as the attackers. But the police refused to take a statement from anyone except Hilath.
This is strange behaviour on their part because the rest of them were attacked and threatened as well, even in police presence.
Even more startlingly, they refused to accept the photographs as evidence until they’d spoken to a ‘superior officer’.
I presume the conversation went something like this:
“Sir! We have three key eye-witnesses from the public assault crime scene with multiple photographs of the crime in progress. Do you think we should take a look at it.. you know.. for evidence perhaps?”
“Yes, doofus bin Einstein.”
Anyways, they called later in the night asking for the photographs, which, I’d like my fundie friends who are reading this to know have also been distributed to every media outlet and agency the FB group could think of.
Now, let’s check the fundie social media checklist at this stage.
So. It appears the cowardly attack on the silent, non-violent protesters today was entirely premeditated and planned.
It is just ironic when the so called practitioners of the ‘religion of peace’ show up in public to assault civilians, use swear words and threaten a girl. I’m also a bit disturbed at the possible implication of a certain two MPs in this case, because the advance warning proves beyond all doubt that someone in their immediate circle knew it was coming.
Why? I don’t know.
I have been told in no uncertain terms that I will come to harm, and stand a real risk of getting attacked / stabbed / hurt / mugged in public for writing this post and publishing these photographs.
I admit that made me consider this for a while. Say, about 20 seconds. But when you have cowardly thugs – no matter how well protected by politicians – coming up and harming unarmed civilians and my friends, and threatening an innocent girl with ‘dire consequences’, I’m afraid I cannot let it simply pass.
That would be too cowardly a thing for me. Even if I had to get stabbed for it. Which I absolutely expect to happen.
Here’s one last picture from Facebook, of the alleged thugs.
P.S. Tell mom I love her.