First published by Mark Lynas in the Maldives Independent on 4 November 2015
With the recent judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the jailing of former President Nasheed of the Maldives is indeed illegal under international law, it is becoming clear that there is more to the continued detention of this climate change and democracy hero than the mere ambition of an autocratic regime to stifle dissent and opposition.
When he was president, Mohamed Nasheed became internationally recognised for his leadership on climate change. He stood up to the big powers at the ill-fated Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, and captured headlines beforehand with the brilliantly executed PR stunt of holding a meeting of his cabinet underwater to symbolise the threat sea level rise poses to the Maldives islands.
But Nasheed’s commitment to climate change ran far deeper than mere PR. As his advisor on climate change between 2009 and the coup that unseated him in February 2012, I worked with Nasheed to formulate a plan for carbon neutrality: the Maldives would lead the way not just with words but by becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral nation. Our first act would be to decommission the dirty diesel generators that were the sole source of electricity on each island and replace them with a 100% solar economy.
We will never know whether the plan would have worked. Nasheed was the Maldives’ first democratically-elected head of state, but the former dictatorship never accepted its loss of power when he took over after free elections in October 2008. Forging an alliance with Islamic extremists, the former dictator’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen helped orchestrate a violent coup on 7 February 2012 that forced Nasheed to resign. Yameen then took over as president following a rigged election process. In February this year Yameen threw former president Nasheed into jail on absurd charges of ‘terrorism’ and had him sentenced to 13 years in prison.