Safari rape case: Release of suspects sparks widespread outrage

Protesters hold an anti-rape rally in Male' City on January 17, 2020. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

The decision to release suspects accused of raping a woman in a safari boat off the coast of suburban Hulhumale’ has sparked widespread outrage within the Maldivian community, with many expressing lack of confidence in the police and the justice system to punish perpetrators of sexual violence against women and children.

The rape was reported to the police at approximately 05:00 am on Friday.

The victim was identified as a woman of foreign nationality, while the suspects were identified as two Maldivian men of 39 years of age.

The two suspects were arrested from the safari boat where the rape was reported to have taken place. But the police announced on Saturday that they have been released from police custody.

The move is a marked difference from the standard approach of the police in dealing with cases of sexual violence, where police petition the court for suspects to be remanded in police custody for the investigation.

However, the press statement issued by the police on Saturday states that the suspects were released from police custody due to “lack of sufficient grounds to keep them detained for the investigation”.

But the investigation remains in progress, said the police.

Why did the police make the unilateral decision to release the suspects from custody? Why didn’t the police leave it up to the courts? Why was it deemed unnecessary to keep the suspects in custody, even if for the protection of the victim? Why was it deemed unnecessary to keep the suspects in custody, even if to prevent destruction of evidence or prevent victim intimidation?

These are all questions being asked of the police by the Maldivian community.

In response to questions by reporters, the police issued a press statement on Sunday, stating that they are unable to release details of the case at such an early stage as it may impede the investigation.

The police insist they are acting in accordance with standard protocol in investigations into cases of sexual violence in its decision to withhold details.  

The Parliament’s Human Rights and Gender Committee, which had been quick to respond to such cases in the past, remains passive. Where is the parliamentary committee which had previously held late night meetings in response to such cases? This is also one question being asked by the Maldivian community.

One of the suspects in the case is rumored to be the spouse of a leading parliamentarian. But the parliamentarian, nor the political party to which she belongs, has yet to issue a statement denying the allegation.

The police said that while the suspects may have been released from police custody, the case remains under investigation.

Former Gender Minister and women’s rights advocate Aneesa Ahmed is skeptical.

She questioned why the victim wasn’t taken to the hospital to conduct a rape kit exam - a crucial procedure to collect forensic evidence.

She questioned whether it wasn't a deliberate move to hide evidence.

Vilimale’ MP Ahmed Usham, a former Deputy Attorney General, is of the opinion that the police should provide satisfactory answers in face of such serious accusations.

“They must be investigated and receive due punishment no matter how powerful they may be,” he said.

Some believe the suspects had been released using power and influence. Why is a government, which came to power on the promise of delivering long-awaited justice, faltering and employing double standards when it involves a specific group of people? Why are the authorities dragging their feet?

Amid the allegations of links between the suspects and government leaders, the opposition has called on authorities to release the identities of the suspects. In a statement condemning the crime, the opposition said they do not accept the decision to release the suspects by claiming lack of sufficient grounds, when they had been apprehended from the scene of the crime itself.

“Therefore, this coalition calls on the President and relevant authorities to take action against the people responsible to the full extent of the law, and protect the rights of the victim of the sexual assault and find her justice, without discrimination or deception, and to reveal the truth of the people who carried out this horrendous crime to the Maldivian people,” said the opposition in its statement.

The Maldivian community is calling for the suspects to be detained, and for the police to investigate the crime and deliver justice, without bowing down to political pressure.