The first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, President Mohamed Nasheed, has been overthrown in a dictatorial coup. Nasheed’s climate change advisor Mark Lynas writes in the Guardian:
Using violence and then taking over the TV station, as well as recruiting converts among the police, the anti-democratic opposition faced Nasheed with a choice – to either use force or resign. Ever the human rights activist, he chose the latter option and stepped down to avoid bloodshed. Even as I write, his whereabouts are still unknown, and though he is supposedly in the “protection” of the military I fear desperately for his personal safety and that of his family. I have heard that he is currently being held against his will under military house arrest, in which case he must be immediately released. All I can do is take comfort from the fact that the struggle can only continue for a man famous in the west for his outspokenness on climate change, but whose real lifelong cause has been his commitment to bringing democracy to his Indian Ocean island homeland.
Over two decades of campaigning against the Gayoom regime, Nasheed set up the Maldivian Democratic Party in exile, and was imprisoned 16 times. He spent six years in jail, and 18 months in solitary confinement in appalling conditions, also suffering torture at the hands of Gayoom’s thugs. Nasheed’s resignation speech says a lot about the man: “I don’t want to run the country with an iron fist,” he said. I can only imagine what he must be going through now, and what he has gone through already in the past. He was declared an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 1991. I don’t think I have ever met a braver or stronger person.
I was lucky enough to work for president Nasheed over the last two years, as his climate change adviser. His commitment to turning the Maldives into the world’s first carbon-neutral country was typically ambitious, and – although all bets are now off – serious progress has already been made. He personally stood up to bullying by China at the ill-fated Copenhagen talks in 2009, helping secure a better deal for vulnerable island nations like his own.
I just sent this email to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard:
Dear Prime Minister,
The first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, President Mohamed Nasheed, has been overthrown in a dictatorial coup. Nasheed was forced to resign and is reportedly now being held under house arrest.
In addition to being a champion of democracy, Nasheed has led the world on climate action, committing to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country. I urge you to do everything you can to support Nasheed.
You can help by signing the petition at http://act.350.org/sign/help_nasheed/