By Brett Garling. Originally published on The Inertia on May 14, 2015.
Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, is an international champion of climate change action. Unfortunately, he is also a political prisoner, having been found guilty in a sham terrorism trial, and is set to serve a 13 year prison sentence. He is 47 right now and will be 60 when he gets out. Not only were the charges bogus, but the trial was essentially 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… a classic catch-22.
Tourism is integral to the Maldives. Indeed, it is the island nation’s largest industry and attracts many water sport lovers and especially surfers who laud the atoll as one of the global prime destinations to catch serious waves. Scope the drone video below of some staggeringly gorgeous surfing footage taken in the Maldives.
Though he is still imprisoned and largely incommunicado, the prospects for former president Mohamed Nasheed have recently brightened. First, celebrity lawyer Amal Clooney (who you might know as the wife of George Clooney) has recently taken on Nasheed’s case and will work with a world-class legal team to defend him. In a statement, the National Press Club, where Mrs. Clooney spoke about the issue, said that the legal team’s goal is to “make public a filing to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging it to find that President Mohamed Nasheed is being held in violation of international law.”
The country of India has also stepped up to the plate recently, asking the Maldives to safeguard space for legitimate political dissent and adhere to due process. Though the letter, which was read in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council, didn’t demand the release of Mr. Nasheed, it does show that major regional players are attuned to the issue and disapprove of the lack of due process. No one wants to see the Maldives slip further into protests and chaos, not least their neighbors.
Mr. Nasheed is an international champion of climate change action and a recipient of the Mission Blue award, which Dr. Sylvia Earle honored Mr. Nasheed with 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. Dr. Earle went on record saying, “It is outrageous that the Maldivian government is getting away with such atrocious clearly political thuggery in sentencing President Nasheed to 13 years in prison.”
President Nasheed also appeared in 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. Unfortunately, now he is behind bars in the very country he once shepherded towards greater global civic responsibility and engagement.
Do you want to help? Consider adding your signature to the 6500 other voices of concern on this Change.org petition. And for all lovers of water sports and surfing, remember that your economic impact on this island nation is significant to those in power. If possible, use that power to raise this issue and attempt to bring justice for Mr. Nasheed. Right now the future is very, very unclear for him. For more background, click here.