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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...

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 NationalGeographic.com 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 Change.org petition found here. If you’d like to join the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #FreeNasheedNOW.

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Meet the Author

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