Today yet again, I put down my words with a heavy heart. My soul feels as if it has aged rapidly overnight. I have been walking around in a daze since I woke up to hear the news of the brutal murder of social media activist, prolific blogger and human rights defender Yameen Rasheed. He was known to many via his twitter handle @yaamyn, just like his friend Ahmed Rilwan, journalist at Minivan News who was forcibly disappeared in August of 2014, who was known to many as @moyameehaa (mad man).
Yameen was found on the staircase of his home, with multiple stab wounds on his body around 3am. His routine of late had been to work until wee hours of the morning. Mihaaru reports that even though he is someone who continually received death threats, because the number of threats had receded to an extent, he had taken to walking home rather than taking a taxi which he usually does. CCTVs at his residence were reportedly facing a different direction when the murder occurred early morning. Reading what little news that has trickled down indicates and points towards premeditated murder.
Yameen reported the death threats he received to the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on many occasions. Yameen had reportedly even sought protection from the police at different junctures. MPS reportedly questioned people regarding the death threats that were received by Yameen. It is not clear whether charges were pressed, nor of any arrests made in that regard. Yameen himself tweeted many times of the failure of MPS to take up his cases with any modicum of seriousness. Today, he is no more and MPS will once again get away by suggesting that there exists no negligence whatsoever on their part in upholding law and order in the country. After all, the regime is safe and sound, so are its affiliated members of society. MPS deserves a pat on the back and commendation rather than condemnation.
Yameen’s shocking murder is one that carries significant similarities to that of the devastating murder of Maldivian parliament member Dr. Afrasheem Ali. His supposed killer is now waiting to be put to death by the state, the moratorium on the death penalty which was lifted after six decades to make way for his sentencing. Too many questions remain unanswered surrounding Dr. Afrasheem’s murder itself. No free thinker believes that the state has ensured that justice was done nor that due process was followed. Some link Rilwan’s disappearance with unearthing the truth behind Dr. Afrasheem’s murder. Allah SWT knows best.
Rilwan’s disappearance left scars that still remain festering in the cesspool that is known as Maldives. Rilwan was the voice of reason for many of his friends and twitter peeps alike. I saw and felt the hard blow it was for close friends of Rilwan like Yameen. One of the many failures of MPS has been their reaction towards Rilwan’s family’s attempts to seek answers for his disappearance.
Yameen was never far from Rilwan’s family’s side when they faced Maldivian authorities. Nor was he swayed to give up in campaigning for justice for Rilwan and his family. Mihaaru reports that Yameen was in fact preparing to come up with activities that could be held to commemorate the 3rd year since Rilwan went missing, a task that requires a lot of creative thinking and maneuvering given state’s lockdown on any activities as such that could rock the boat of ‘stability and prosperity’ Maldives is currently traversing upon.
What makes Yameen stand out is the fact that he was steadfast in his criticism of a regime that seems to have zero tolerance for the freethinker. A free thinking society is after all what regimes like ours fear the most. That fear manifests itself in bogus politically charged trials, reputations soiled through fabricated and planted evidence at the behest of the regime and if you are one of the thorniest of thorns in the government’s side, you get forcibly disappeared or at worse, stabbed and brutally murdered. The free thinkers have effectively become refugees in their own land.
Yameen stood for principles that I believed in. We at times clashed on issues where our views differed. But deep down inside, I respected him for his core values and principles which echoed with mine. A society free of corruption, where institutions are able and just, where liberty and freedoms are rights not owing to political affiliation but in spite of it as enshrined in our Constitution as everyone’s right. Yameen represented to the Maldivian society and the world, the few of us who shared his values, most being too scared or intimidated by the thought of standing up against the rising tsunami that is the Maldivian government, cracking its whip on dissidence of any form.
Yameen was a contributing, valuable member to a society that is rotten at its core. He understood that. A society so deeply divided by partisan politics, religion and other issues that are brushed under the carpet. Most Maldivians are a complacent lot. We human beings are a complacent lot. We think very little of the suffering of the other person, unless we ourselves one day stand looking at devastation of the same kind or worse. Our education system and living conditions demand nothing less from society, except to be ‘law abiding’ in the form that the government deems creates a stable society ripe for ‘development’.
Talking about corruption, injustices, the sheer magnitude of failures of successive regimes gets you locked up or worse. There is no safe space for the free thinker in Maldives. Today more than any other day in recent history, I have come to realize that there is no place in Maldivian society for people like myself who wants to do right by the people. Who actually want to live a life of dignity and afford the same to the rest. Perhaps there never was room for people like Yameen, albeit for a brief period of time when a people elected government ruled until it was toppled through a coup d’état that we as a society have yet to recover from.
Yameen represents the kind of mind and spirit that regimes like ours despise. Because people like him are not swayed by partisan politics. They see wrong for wrong, no matter who does it. Even though labeled and affiliated with MDP and ‘yellow fever’ as some put it, Yameen stood up for values that perhaps echoed most with what MDP represents. Because whether we accept it or not, MDP seems to be the only party that remotely even talks about values of justice, peace and freedom that people like him and a few members of Maldivian society actively advocate for at the risk of their own lives.
Today, I feel indebted to Yameen. Because he actively worked for things and values he believed in. Those that I believed in. He gave the middle finger to everyone who thought they could intimidate him with death threats or worse. He never gave up the fight to find answers for his friend’s disappearance. He never stopped asking. He never ceased in his efforts to take on the institutions of Maldives that have failed so miserably in creating an equitable and just society. He never gave up. That is the lesson we all need to take from his death.
It is often said that the brightest of souls are those that leave us all too soon. Their brief sojourn through life touches us in profound ways that remains inexplicable long after they are gone. Yameen was not my friend in the traditional sense. But he was someone I deeply respected for his values, and I would like to believe he did so with mine. Life got in the way when two opportunities came up where I could have met him in person. Perhaps if I had, his death would be even more difficult for me to process than it is now.
The outpouring of grief, sorrow and solitude upon his death on social media is one that attests to the fact that his activism was one that did not go unnoticed. Similar to the time when Rilwan disappeared, Yameen too has joined a list that I fear is going to grow as time goes on by. I wonder how many of us would have to die brutal deaths, or be forcibly disappeared before Maldivians as a collective people rise and demand justice from the regime that controls all our resources. I wonder when enough would be enough. While most view gang affiliated violence with a lack of interest, today we lost a valuable, intelligent life force to be reckoned with. Perhaps that is the message that those behind his death wants to send to the rest of us. Speak your mind, you face the same verdict. Kowtow to the regime, you are safe.
Maldivians need to wake up and look past the “developmental” rhetoric spewed by the authorities. That a bridge and a platform to view its construction does not make for development. That a state which fails to uphold the sanctity and sacredness of human life is one that has failed at its core. That a reality show that keeps the majority of the masses engrossed in the fabricated drama that unfolds every week is not going to teach our children the values they need to uphold for a society to flourish. That there would be no Maldives left for the generations to come because we as a collective people have failed in ensuring that it is so.
I can’t even fathom the sense of deep loss and pain that Yameen’s family, close friends, and colleagues must be feeling. What I feel is almost negligible in contrast to how much pain they must be undergoing right now. My prayers remain with them, that Allah SWT grant them ease in these difficult times. I have never stopped praying for Rilwan’s family. Yameen’s death and asking for justice for him will now forever remain in them as well. Because as a society that has been left with little else to do, prayers are all that remain.
Rest In Peace dear Yameen. For your loss is one that has shaken us all to our very core. Perhaps it is fitting that your very last tweet was the emoji of a balloon flying away. You’ve left us with tears in our heart, but unwavering faith that one day your death will be avenged, even if it be in the Hereafter. Justice will find those that are responsible for this inviolable desecrating act on a precious human life.
Rest In Peace my dear. Rest In Peace.
I believe in love, it’s all we got
Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch
War makes money, cancer sleeps
Curled up in my father and that means something to me
Churches and dictators, politics and papers
Everything crumbles sooner or later
But love, I believe in love – Elton John, Believe