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SMS Death Threats Stoke Fears on Fate of Abducted Journalist in Maldives

#FindMoyaMeehaa photo campaign. Screenshot from Dhahau Naseem Facebook page.

#FindMoyaMeehaa photo campaign. Screenshot from Dhahau Naseem Facebook page.

Ellery Roberts Biddle contributed reporting to this story.

Since last week, fifteen Maldivian journalists have reported receiving anonymous SMS messages threatening them for their coverage of recent deadly street violence in the small island nation, which lies southeast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The messages came a few days prior to the unexplained disappearance of journalist and democracy advocate Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla, who works for Minivan news, a private news website. “Minivan” means “independent” in local language Dhivehi.

A free speech advocate and prolific social media user, Rizwan is one of the Maldives’ first bloggers and writes on many subjects, including religion, politics, and the environment. Supporters have built a campaign website on his behalf.  Rizwan was not threatened by SMS, but did cover the story for Minivan News.

On the morning of Aug. 20, Aishath Aniya (@Aniya_A), another journalist working in the radio 97Minivan, received a death threat. She tweeted:

According to Minivan News, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Didi also reported a threat. A message sent via text, from the same number as the message sent to Aishath, warned the MP: “we will not hesitate to disappear you. Have you forgotten you have a small daughter?”

Facebook user Shiu Naeem, writing under the #FindMoyaMeehaa hashtag, suggested that the messages were sent by a party representative suspected of working with ISIS:

All the SMS death threats which you are receiving are sent by a former MDP activist now in the control of Minister Adheeb named Shumba Gong. So be ware guys. This guy says that he've talked with ‪#‎ISIS‬. Trying to be Mr. IKNOWEVERYTHING. This is 100% confirmed. ‪#‎FindMoyameehaa‬

Despite the certainty she espoused, the allegation has not been confirmed.

The Facebook page of the Secular Democratic Maldives Movement raised some pertinent questions about the SMS threats, referencing the #FindMoyaMeehaa campaign to locate Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla.

Aishath Aniya receives a message from an unlisted number identified only as ISIS saying that she is next with the tag “‪#‎FuckMoyameehaa‬”. This raises several questions in relation to ‪#‎FindMoyaMeehaa‬:

1. Does this confirm that Ahmed Rizwan was abducted?
2. Does this mean that the people trying to instate an “Islamic State of Maldives” have a relation to the abduction?
3. How do they have the capability to send such messages?
4. To what extent do they control or have access to telecommuncations and other infrastructure?
5. To what extent have they infiltrated the police, defense forces and other government agencies?
6. In the light of such questions, can the police even be trusted at all by the average citizen for their protection, let alone to find Ahmed Rizwan?

Political unrest has plagued Maldives since its first democratic presidential election in 2008. The young democracy climbed on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index immediately following the vote to a peak of 51 in the ranking. After the alleged ouster of President Mohamed Nasheed, however, and journalists considered to be his supporters were threatened and attacked, the country plummeted to its latest ranking of 103.  The instability has lead to a rise in gang violence and may be linked to the events of the last two weeks. 

#FindMoyaMeehaa campaign posters in Maldives. Photo by something like art via Facebook.

#FindMoyaMeehaa campaign posters in Maldives. Photo by something like art via Facebook.

It is clear that these combined threats against journalists have hit a nerve among citizens and democracy advocates in the country. As Minivan News editor Daniel Bosley put it:

Whose face will be next on the posters? This will not stop until until people raise up from apathy. 
While one million come to the Maldives to forget their worries each year, their money is used to ensure that local citizens cannot even voice their own.
This is not about religion. It is about power and political opportunism. Don't allow yourselves to be convinced otherwise. 
Rilwan hasn't. 
http://minivannews.com/politics/finding-missing-journalist-of-“high-priority”-says-police-89678

Global Voices will continue to monitor this story as it unfolds.

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