President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives has been one of the most enlightened world leaders since his election in 2008. As the first democratically elected leader of the small island nation, he has been a tireless voice for action against climate change and a strong advocate for international environmental safeguards.
“For us, this is a matter of life and death,” Nasheed has said. The 2011 documentary The Island President tells the story of Nasheed’s continuing struggle with the consequences of climate change.
Now it is Nasheed specifically who is at risk. A military coup forced President Nasheed from office on Tuesday morning with threats of violence. The former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience—who became the leader of 330,000 people on the island archipelago in 2008 when he ended the three-decade rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the Maldives’ first democratic election—is no stranger to the inside of his country’s jails. He’s been jailed ten times and tortured twice and now stands at great risk after being forced “at gunpoint” to give up his office after three years and three months of his term.
As Bill McKibben told Democracy Now! this morning, Nasheed “was in certain ways the first precursor of the Arab Spring, the ‘Mandela of the Indian Ocean,’ who really brought democracy to a country where it hadn’t been before,” as well as “the most outspoken head of state around the issue of climate change on our planet.” McKibben further argues that Nasheed “was a thorn in the side [of the United States] because he kept bringing up the topic of climate change, a topic they’re not that keen on. On the other hand, he—almost to a fault—was cooperative with US efforts about climate change. The State Department owes him and I hope that they take this seriously.”
One of Nasheed’s strongest organizational allies in the United States, McKibben’s organization, 350.org, has mounted a petition drive imploring our national leaders to use diplomatic means to keep him safe in this time of turmoil, and to work for a peaceful, democratic solution to their conflict. Join the more than 30,000 of your fellow concerned citizens who have signed on and add your name today.