The attempted assassination on May 6, 2021, of Mohamed Nasheed, the former Maldivian president and current speaker of parliament, highlights the grave risks posed by extremist groups who enjoy political protection.
Nasheed, who became the Maldives’ first democratically elected president in 2008 after spending years in prison for his democratic views, was badly injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) as he walked from his home to his car in the capital, Malé. Fragments pierced his chest, head, and abdomen, and he underwent lifesaving surgery that night. Two bodyguards and a bystander received minor injuries.
Police said they have arrested the prime suspect, who is believed to have links with Islamist extremists, and that the Australian Federal Police are assisting the investigation. The day of the blast, Nasheed had announced on Twitter that he had obtained a list of people who benefited from a massive corruption scandal related to tourism and development seven years ago—a move certain to have vexed a number of prominent politicians. Nasheed had previously received threats from extremist Islamist groups who had called him an apostate.
The attack on Nasheed follows others in which Islamist groups with links to the previous government have been implicated. Yameen Rasheed, a blogger, was stabbed to death on April 23, 2017; he was known for ridiculing corrupt leaders and religious extremists. His friend, the journalist Ahmed Rilwan, disappeared in 2014; he had worked to expose corruption in the tourism industry.
The government’s failure to successfully investigate and prosecute these and other cases of attacks on freedom of expression illustrates the deeply entrenched impunity for such crimes. Along with Nasheed, several other people who criticized these groups have been threatened on social media.
Unfortunately, the current government of President Ibrahim Solih has at times sought to appease these extremists. In December 2019, the government banned the Maldivian Democracy Network, the country’s leading human rights organization, for allegedly “insulting Islam” – a move that has had a chilling effect on other civil society groups.
This is a critical moment for the Maldives. As the government investigates the attack on Nasheed, it should move to stem violence by Islamist extremist groups and bring to justice their political backers.