The Criminal Court on Thursday acquitted two suspects charged with terrorism, over the abduction of missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
Ahmed Rilwan has been missing since August 8, 2014. The state had accused Aalif Rauf of capital Male and Mohamed Nooradheen of Gaafu Dhaal's Vaadhoo, of kidnapping the journalist and charged them with terrorism.
The prosecution had claimed that Rilwan had been abducted and taken away in a red car belonging to Aalif at the time. This was the first kidnapping case to be taken to trial in Maldives.
During the verdict hearing held early Thursday, Judge Adam Arif presiding over the case noted that though the prosecution's witnesses had testified to seeing a man being forced into a red car near Rilwan's home in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale, neither had they claimed the man was Rilwan nor had they spoke of Aalif and Nooradheen's involvement.
While the state had put forward witnesses claiming that the red car owned by Aalif, had been transported from capital Male to Hulhumale before Rilwan's disappearance and back again afterwards via ferry, the court noted that the witnesses had not been able to confirm whether the car truly belonged to Aalif or even recall its registration number.
The key piece of evidence was DNA extracted from a strand of hair found in the red car, which had matched the Mitochondrial DNA of Rilwan's mother, Aminath Easa. As the DNA extracted from another strand of hair found on a toothbrush in Rilwan's flat also matched his mother's DNA, the prosecution had sought to prove that the DNA found in the car was Rilwan's.
However the judge stated that the possibility that the strand of hair had belonged to Rilwan, did not prove that he had been forced inside the car.
The court went on to state that the DNA expert had testified that the hair strand could have also belonged to maternal half-siblings of Aminath Easa, her daughters or their respective daughters. While the prosecution had only put forward Rilwan's mother, his siblings and maternal half-siblings for the case, the judge noted that the state had not submitted any documents to prove that Aminath Easa did not have maternal half-siblings, or any granddaughters through a daughter.
Judge Arif further pointed out that the prosecution had not submitted the chain of custody report for the strand of hair in time, thus failing to prove in court where the hair was found. The report had been finally submitted via a letter halfway through the trial, though the defendants only became aware of it during the hearing held to read the case summary.
Prior to the verdict reading, Judge Arif highlighted that several parts of the investigation were not completed before the trial commenced:
- Police had discovered a bennett knife near the scene of the crime; however the prosecution had not submitted a forensic analysis report on the knife, which could have been a key piece of evidence in the case.
- No documents were submitted regarding the registration of the red car which had allegedly belonged to Aalif.
- Head shots of the two suspects were not shown to witnesses.
- While the defence claims to have requested the police to check surveillance footage of an area in Hulhumale where defendant Nooradheen had parked a car belonging to him, there was no indication that the footage had been considered during the investigation.
Had the court found the defendants guilty of kidnapping Rilwan, Aalif and Nooradheen would have faced 10 - 15 years of imprisonment.
The state had also levied charges against Mohamed Suaid of Addu Atoll's Hulhudhoo over Rilwan's abduction. However the Criminal Court had rejected his case as Suaid was not in Maldives. While his family had informed the court that Suaid had passed away while abroad, the prosecution maintains that his death was never proven.