President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Tuesday declared that the missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan is dead.
The president made the unprecedented proclamation while speaking at Madaveli, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, during his ongoing official visit to Huvadhu.
This marks the first time for a government official to state that Rilwan, a journalist of Maldives Independent who has been missing since August 2014, is dead. To date, none of the authorities had disclosed any details of the investigation into Rilwan's disappearance.
"There is no doubt that Rilwan, of Maldives Independent, is now dead; it is a great tragedy," said the president.
The state had accused Aalif Rauf of capital Male and Mohamed Nooradheen of Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Vaadhoo, of kidnapping Rilwan and charged them with terrorism. However, the Criminal Court acquitted the two suspects last Thursday.
While Rilwan's family have accused the police of being negligent in the investigation, President Yameen declared Rilwan's death in response to a statement released by his former deputy, Ahmed Adheeb, on Tuesday.
Adheeb, who is serving 33 years in jail, claimed in his statement that he had endeavoured to ensure justice for Rilwan, who went missing during the former's tenure as Minister of Tourism in the current administration. While the former vice president has been accused of being involved in Rilwan's disappearance, Adheeb again denied the allegations against him.
"[Adheeb claimed] that Rilwan's case was being investigated on a Cabinet-level, and that I had stopped it," said Yameen, regarding Adheeb's claims in his statement. Indicating the ministers present at the gathering, he continued, "These are the same ministers that were on the Cabinet at that time. I am saddened that the media is spreading such blatant lies spoken by a convicted felon."
Yameen repeatedly denied Adheeb's claim that the Cabinet had investigated Rilwan's disappearance, asserting that the case was and still is handled by the police.
"The death of Afrasheem (murdered parliamentarian) must be investigated. The death of Rilwan must be investigated, and so must all other such cases. How can this be done on a Cabinet-level?" demanded the president.
According to Yameen, the Cabinet had put together a committee only to look into Adheeb's involvement in the explosion aboard the presidential speedboat in September 2015. Yameen and First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim, along with some others, had been travelling from the airport to Male City upon the couple's return from Hajj pilgrimage, when the blast took place. Adheeb has since been convicted of orchestrating the explosion in an attempt to assassinate the president.
Yameen expressed his displeasure that some media outlets were reporting statements made "by such a criminal" as the truth.
The president stated that the police institution will answer to Rilwan's case, not the Cabinet.
Though the Criminal Court acquitted the two suspects charged with Rilwan's abduction, the Prosecutor General's Office has announced that it will appeal the case. The police had earlier in the investigation also stated that Rilwan had been tailed before his abduction, and made several arrests over alleged involvement of gangs in his disappearance. Nevertheless, all the suspects were later released over lack of evidence.