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Outspoken Maldives Blogger Who Challenged Radical Islamists Is Killed.

Monday 24 April 2017, by siawi3

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/23/world/asia/yameen-rasheed-dead-maldives-blogger-dead.html?_r=0

Outspoken Maldives Blogger Who Challenged Radical Islamists Is Killed

By HASSAN MOOSA and KAI SCHULTZ

APRIL 23, 2017

Photo: Yameen Rasheed in Malé, the capital of the Maldives, in February. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

MALÉ, Maldives — A liberal blogger who wrote satirical critiques of the Maldivian government and the spread of radical Islam died Sunday after being stabbed in the stairway of his apartment building.

The blogger, Yameen Rasheed, 29, had complained repeatedly to the police about receiving death threats, he said in an interview with The New York Times this year, adding that the police often failed to return his calls or dropped his complaints without investigation.

“In my case, I get multiple kinds of death threats from different people, because I write and do the campaign,” he said. Mr. Rasheed was a coordinator of a campaign to find his friend Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a journalist for The Maldives Independent who was abducted in 2014.

The police said that Mr. Rasheed was found with multiple stab wounds in his apartment building in the capital, Malé, shortly before 3 a.m. He was rushed to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and died soon after.

The Republic of Maldives, a nation of nearly 1,200 islands southwest of India, is best known as a spectacular vacation destination. But the country, with fewer than 400,000 people, has also become a source of recruits for the Islamic State. The government said at least 49 Maldivians had traveled to Syria to fight with the group, also known as ISIS; a 2015 study by an international security firm said the number was about 200.

The population, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, has traditionally been liberal in its interpretation of Islam, with women rarely covering their heads. But a more conservative strain of Islam has spread in recent years under the increasing influence of Saudi Arabia, which sends religious leaders to the Maldives and offers scholarships to Maldivian students to study at Saudi universities.

A spokeswoman for the hospital, Zeenath Ali Habeeb, said Mr. Rasheed had been brought in at 3:15 a.m. with multiple stab wounds, having lost a lot of blood. He was unconscious and had a very weak pulse, she said, and he died while being treated.

His father, Hussain Rasheed, told the local news media that his son had been stabbed 16 times in the chest, neck and head.

Mr. Rasheed was best known for satirical Twitter posts and weekly posts on his popular blog, The Daily Panic, which riffed on the week’s headlines, often criticizing the government’s use of religion to appeal to the public.

He was also a coordinator of the Find Moyameehaa campaign, which was started after Mr. Abdulla was abducted almost three years ago.

Last year, Mr. Rasheed wrote on Twitter that he had reported receiving death threats to the police and had not received a response. Mr. Rasheed posted screenshots of the many threats he received on his social media accounts.

“We condemn this action in the harshest terms,” President Abdulla Yameen said in a statement. “All resources of the state will be utilized to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.”

Mr. Yameen said he had ordered a review of the procedures for investigating threats against journalists to make sure they are acted upon “swiftly” and in a “manner that ensures safety for everyone.”

Three former presidents of the Maldives appealed for a speedy and thorough investigation into Mr. Rasheed’s death.

“A brave voice, brutally silenced,” former President Mohamed Nasheed said on Twitter. “Only an impartial & open investigation with international participation can provide justice.”

Atul Keshap, the American ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, also called for an investigation, adding that he was “still waiting for answers” about Mr. Abdulla’s abduction in 2014.

Amnesty International noted that the killing of Mr. Rasheed took place against the backdrop of the Maldivian authorities’ growing restrictions on public debate.

“This crackdown has intensified in recent weeks and must end immediately,” the organization said. “Authorities should protect those who speak out, not try to criminalize them.”

In his interview with The Times in January, Mr. Rasheed described how bloggers like himself and Mr. Abdulla were targeted by radicalized gangs in the Maldives, from which jihadists recruit fighters for the Islamic State.

Mr. Rasheed said Mr. Abdulla’s abduction followed a pattern of increasingly hostile actions against those who question how Islam is practiced in the Maldives. A couple of months before the abduction, a mob kidnapped several men affiliated with a Facebook group calling for secularism, accused them of homosexuality and atheism, and forced them to cite parts of the Quran before being released.

Mr. Rasheed said that nearly all of the 20 members of the group committed to finding Mr. Abdulla had received death threats, from people who brandished knives in public or through text messages. The messages were often graphic and called for their beheading.

Friends described Mr. Rasheed as soft-spoken, funny and fiercely committed to finding Mr. Abdulla and seeking justice for his family. Celine Peroni, Mr. Rasheed’s girlfriend, said he was “just the smartest, wittiest and sweetest person I’ve ever met.”

Ms. Peroni said she and Mr. Rasheed had often talked about the death threats, which intensified in December when his name began circulating as a person of interest within extremist groups. She asked him to take cabs home at night, and Mr. Rasheed was always careful to walk in view of CCTV cameras.

Recently, however, Mr. Rasheed “was feeling more relaxed,” Ms. Peroni said, and the couple had booked a summer vacation to Sri Lanka. He had even started walking home again instead of taking cabs, she said.

“He was aware of the threats, but cautious,” she said. “He wanted the voice of the truth to be heard, despite the risks.”

Hassan Moosa reported from Malé, and Kai Schultz from New Delhi. Geeta Anand contributed reporting from Mumbai, India.