International climate and democracy hero Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, has been sentenced to thirteen years in prison for alleged “terrorism” after a controversial trial that Amnesty International condemned as “a travesty of justice.” The governments of the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, Canada and India have said they are “deeply concerned” that the trial was not “conducted in a transparent and impartial manner or in accordance with due legal process,” in the words of Hugo Swire, a British Foreign Office minister. Nasheed responded to the sentence by giving a statement to the court that urged citizens of the Maldives “to stay courageous and strong, to confront the dictatorial power of this regime…[and] to take all of your lives in your hands and go out onto the streets in protest.”
In an apparent Alice-in-Wonderland development, Nasheed’s lawyers fear that they will be prevented from appealing his conviction by new rules put in place days before his trial began. The rules grant defendants only ten days to file appeals, which must be based on a signed copy of the court proceedings. The court has now told Nasheed’s lawyers it could be fourteen days before the proceedings are released.
"At every step, the…regime has violated Nasheed’s rights, while the courts break the law and the Constitution with impunity,” said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a spokesman for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party. “Democracy is dead in the Maldives. In its place, we have thuggish authoritarian rule."
Meanwhile, Nasheed is being held in a detention center on Dhoonidhoo Island while the government prepares a “special jail” for him, Hamid told The Nation. Nasheed’s supporters fear that such a “special jail” could foretell a return to the solitary confinement Nasheed endured while leading the fight to overthrow the former dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the island nation for thirty years and whose half-brother, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is now president.
After becoming his nation’s first democratically elected president in 2008, Nasheed drew global attention by convening an underwater cabinet meeting. He and his ministers donned scuba gear to highlight the dangers that rising seas pose to the Maldives, a chain of 1,200 small islands south of India that are barely above sea level. In 2009, Nasheed was applauded like a rock star by activists at the Copenhagen climate summit when he championed radical greenhouse-gas emissions cuts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million.
The vulnerability of low-lying island nations to climate change was illustrated again last week in Vanuatu, which was devastated by Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the South Pacific east of Australia, according to Stefan Rahmsdort, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
“I've spent time in the Maldives, enough to know that Nasheed is not just one of the planet’s greatest climate heroes but the Mandela of his nation,” said Bill McKibben, the author and co-founder of the activist group 350.org. “He’s already spent too much of his life in jail and now he's back again, but if the global community stands up to the thugocracy ruling the Maldives he will, I have little doubt, once more restore democracy to his beautiful, vulnerable islands.”