Changing Planet

The Island President is Behind Bars

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives and international champion of climate change action, was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to thirteen years in prison this month. Nasheed is accused of ordering the arrest of a Maldivian judge in 2012 when he was still in office. Accusations aside, Nasheed’s defense has been stillborn: the court scheduled a hearing within two hours of his arrest and prevented the defense team from appearing in court because they were required to register two days in advance. As a result of this judiciary obstructionism, Nasheed’s own lawyers have quit the trial, citing biased proceedings and resultant inability to craft a defense. His confinement will be a “prison apartment” according to government officials. The Minister of Home Affairs of the Maldives recently tweeted, “Nasheed’s 264 sqft Prison apartment: 1room, sitting room, furnished, AC, TV, VCD player. Garden 1087 sqft. Live with other inmate-friends”. The Island President is 47 and his sentence is scheduled to finish when he is 60 years old.

Dr Sylvia Earle presented Nasheed with the Mission Blue Award in 2014
Dr. Sylvia Earle presented Nasheed with the Mission Blue Award in 2014 (Photo by Courtney Mattison)

Nasheed is an international champion of climate change action and a recipient of the Mission Blue award, with which Dr. Earle honored Mr. Nasheed at the Blue Ocean Film Festival 2014 for his distinguished work advocating for carbon abatement in the face of sea level rise that especially threatens very low-lying nations like the Maldives. A highlight of the film festival was the screening of the 2011 film The Island President, a feature documentary that details Mr. Nasheed’s struggle to convince the world community to act on climate change and protect the impending flooding of the 1200 islands of the Maldives. As president, Mr. Nasheed had promised to make the island nation entirely carbon-free within a decade through wind and solar energy. Unfortunately, Mr. Nasheed was thrown from power in a coup in 2012 before he could realize that dream. In accepting the Mission Blue award, Mr. Nasheed voiced his hope to one day return to office in the Maldives and claimed to feel very at home in Florida due to the tropical weather and, more humorously he added, the contested elections. His dream of returning to office and making a positive impact on the environment has been put further out of reach by his recent incarceration.

Nasheed’s advocacy for climate action hinges on the susceptibility of low lying nations to climate-fueled sea level rise. The Island President was quoted on in 2011:

If you measure the Maldives’ coral reefs in terms of surface area, we have more reefs combined than the entire Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Climate change is now threatening our reef ecosystems through coral bleaching and ocean acidification. The science is clear. There is no point in countries bickering about who is to blame for climate change. That is not the issue. Whether developed countries or developing countries, we must all reduce our carbon emissions into the atmosphere or life on Earth as we know it will perish.

What we really need are many green presidents to lead the world into a renewable energy future. If we cannot reach an international agreement to take action fast to reduce our global carbon footprint, one idea I would like to propose is the establishment of an international environmental court, similar to how the International Court of the Hague addresses humanitarian crisis issues. In this case, countries could be taken to court if they refuse to stop emitting large-scale carbon into the atmosphere. Renewable energy is financially and economically viable for us, and even if we are only a small country, if the Maldives can be a sustainable country, we can make a contribution to the world.

In response to Nasheed’s arrest, the governments of India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the EU have made statements about the specifics of the trial. The US State Department went on record stating, “We are particularly troubled by reports that the trial was conducted in a manner contrary to Maldivian law and Maldives’ international obligations to provide the minimum fair trial guarantees and other protections under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This includes the denial of legal representation to former President Nasheed during the first hearing and concerns regarding the lack of impartiality and independence of the judges.” Indeed, most of the global democratic community has echoed similar sentiments. That includes the pro-democracy voices in the Maldives itself.

March 10, 2014. Photo by Dying Regime licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
March 10, 2014. (Photo by Dying Regime licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.)

There isn’t much news coming out of the Maldives about the trial and imprisonment of Nasheed. Recent reports indicate that Nasheed has voiced a willingness to work with the Maldivian government to resolve this crisis and implored the global community to support peaceful demonstrators for democracy in the Maldives. To add your voice to the call for judicial due process for Nasheed, you can sign the petition found here. If you’d like to join the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #FreeNasheedNOW.

Brett is the founder of Cut Canvas Creative, a creative agency in San Francisco. Mission Blue is one of his non-profit clients.
  • Hussain

    Its a sad sad story down here in Maldives, where the government operates Gangs to create fear among the opposition, while Police & Army crush opposition protesters.

  • maria i cartagena

    Just a Fair trial? why not?

  • Moosa Nazim

    Presidnet Mohamed Nasheed (Anni)​ is not a terrorist. he is a true leader who love us all. #FreeNasheedNOW

  • Ahmed

    It’s completely a farce trial. Without any legal council for Defence. President Nasheed was not given to Defence his self..

  • Sama

    “Its a sad sad story down here in Maldives, where the government operates Gangs to create fear among the opposition, while Police & Army crush opposition protesters.” Completely true!

  • a worryd maldivian

    I dnt knw why maldivian government protecting corrupted judges …. A concerned maldivian…

  • Hassan

    With no intellectuals in PPM cabinet and in political posts, they were not able to manage the economy as they promised. They thought that getting the majority in Majlis and judges on their sides through bribery, they could do anything the way they pleased. By using these two entities and keeping the armed forces and the police well fed and looked after with all their needs met they started their campaign of twisting the arm of law to suit their whims and fancies. First they eliminated the auditor general and put someone of theirs . Next they eliminated 2 judges that they were skeptical about. With all the major powers in their control they started this devious campaign of eliminating the opposition. In their own personal greed they were even blind to the fact that they were a government formed by a coalition. Hence they not only neglected them but tried to squeeze and manipulate them too. As a result the coalition broke up and the major player in that coalition joined hands with the opposition to protect the constitution and their rights.
    The regime could not stand that and started using the judiciary and the Majlis to eliminate the opposition in a manner of revenge for President Yamin’s half brother Maumoon.Abdul Gayyoom the dictator who ruled Maldives for 30 years with absolute power. The opposition MDP brought that dictatorship down in a free and fair election and formed the first democratic government in 2008 something the old dictator could not digest.
    Surprisingly the minds of dictators and autocratic rulers work the same way.even today. South African regime kept Nelson Mandela in prison and Burmese regime kept Aung San Suu Kyi.

  • Michael

    Clearly, this a political imprisonment. Maldivians should follow the money.. somebody with very large financial interests does not like this guy. Remember what happens in such cases, however.. this will only draw more attention to the causes Nasheed has been championing. His whole life’s work will now be known worldwide.. and reasonable minds, with the greater good always in mind, will prevail. Shame on the corrupt officials who are doing this (and undoubtedly being paid handsomely for it – those riches won’t last).

  • Ocean Times

    This tremendous global hero is the victim of kangaroo court of small. jealous and greedy men who did not earn their power and should not be entitled to running the country or having any say in its future. Already the world will stop supporting them when it comes to human disaster relief, and the people will suffer at the hands of these criminals. How can we free the Maldives from the real terrorists who have overthrown the government and locked up the one brave enough to stand up to them?

  • Eugenia K. Larson

    President Nasheed was NOT given a fair trial! He is NOT a crook; he deserves to be freed and allowed to continue as President of the Maldives!

  • masouma

    so sad to hear about the Maldavies

  • Mishal

    As a country in democratic transition, Maldives politics is being manipulated by big businesses, especially one group called Villa Group.

    President Nasheed (a well loved man) is just one of the victims of the political havoc being played by powerful actors. There is nothing more to read from it.

  • marti easley

    Free this man!

  • Christina

    Every tourist planning a trip to the Maldives should boycott and communicate to the government via emails to the national site that they will NOT come until President Nasheed is released. It is depressing that the world watches and no one, not even the most powerful countries in the world, do anything more than ‘make a statement,’ but individuals can still make a difference with their wallets. Clearly that is all this government notices.

  • Rosa Oliveira

    President Nasheed is in prison because he’s been a nature defender!

  • rmb

    The island President was calling for the leaders of the world to save the WORLD from insane actions that warming our planet is causing. Now the World leaders are upping the ppm of C02 to even more dangerous levels, …500-700ppm!?Jesus, knows,& is in ultimate control, man is out of control, please research these issues, physically, & accept the simple spiritual, this is what Jesus came to vindicate, the fallen state of man, needs to be saved.

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