Seven years ago, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed became a hero of the climate justice movement with his impassioned pleas to address global warming. But recently Nasheed has largely been silenced after being ousted in a coup and then jailed by his political opponents. He has just received political asylum in Britain and joins us today.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Britain, where the former president of the tiny Indian Ocean state of the Maldives has been granted political refugee status. Mohamed Nasheed was the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, known internationally for his work on climate change. In 2009, he pleaded with world leaders in Copenhagen to do more to tackle the climate crisis.
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Our task now is to unite the world behind a shared vision of low-carbon growth. The Maldives is trying to lead the way. I call upon every country in this room to join us, not just for the sake of the Maldives, but for the sake of the entire planet.
AMY GOODMAN: Months before the Copenhagen talks, President Nasheed made international headlines when he held an underwater Cabinet meeting in an attempt to bring attention to the dire consequences of global warming. President Nasheed and 11 members of his government, 11 of his government ministers, wore scuba gear and plunged nearly 20 feet into the Indian Ocean.
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: We are actually trying to send our message, let the world know what is happening and what might—what will happen to the Maldives if climate change is not checked. This is a challenging situation. And we want to see that everyone else is also occupied as much as we are, and would like to see that people actually do something about it.
AMY GOODMAN: While President Mohamed Nasheed was hailed as a climate hero by many in the international community, back home in the Maldives it was a different story. In 2012, he was ousted in what he called an armed coup by supporters of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Then in 2015, President Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted under the Maldives’ Anti-Terrorism Act.
Well, in January, Mohamed Nasheed was released from prison to travel to Britain for back surgery, where he sought and received political asylum. On Wednesday, Nasheed brought together political rivals in London to announce the creation of an opposition-in-exile group armed at toppling—aimed at toppling Yameen’s government.
Well, for more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about your freedom, after you spent, in this last period, more than a year in prison in the Maldives?
MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, thank you very much, and it’s nice to be back again with you. I was imprisoned after a trial that has been widely condemned by every single institution, country and commentator on the trial. The charges were wrong. The trial was wrong. The sentence was wrong. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has specifically, in very much detail, outlined where it went wrong. We all knew this was a politically motivated trial. It’s not just me; all of the Maldives opposition are now behind bars. The conservative Adhaalath Party’s leader, Sheikh Imran, is behind—is in jail. Colonel Nazim, the defense minister for President Yameen, he is in jail. His former vice president, Adeeb, is in jail. Their own elected vice president is in exile. Everyone, all the opposition leaders in the Maldives are now either in jail or having to live in exile.
We think—we feel that this is a very grave situation. And we want to see how we may be able to overcome this and get the country back on a more democratic track. We would like to see the international community more engaged and more focused on the gravity of the issues in the Maldives. We feel that these issues are very closely connected to the stability of the Indian Ocean. We have Islamic radicalism; we have people going to jihad from the Maldives. At the same time, we have strongly and rising powers, specifically China and Saudi Arabia, also seeking for a foothold in the Maldives. And I think that would be disturbing, not only to our immediate neighbors, but also to the many, many number of other countries at large.
AMY GOODMAN: When you were ousted, President Nasheed, in 2012, what was the response of the U.S. government?
MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, unfortunately, the U.S. government recognized the coup regime instantly. I have a view that they read the story wrong at that instance. They must have got the wrong end of the stick. And I am hopeful and I am happy to see that the U.S. government is now coming to understand the realities in the Maldives. The Congress and the Senate have passed a resolution indicating their sense of the gravity of the issue in the Maldives, and we are hopeful that the State Department will follow suit from what the Senate has said and the Congress has said. The Treasury and the Justice Department is very clearly aware of the money laundering issues and the implications and the connections that it has to President Yameen. We are seeking targeted sanctions on regime leaders. We think that it is absolutely necessary now, and we are hopeful that the Justice Department and the Treasury and the State Department would come to understand it and would come to lead targeted sanctions against regime leaders in the Maldives.
AMY GOODMAN: Human rights advocates are increasingly concerned about the conditions in the Maldives. This is your lawyer, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, speaking last September to journalists in the Maldives during your imprisonment.
AMAL CLOONEY: I’m here to represent President Nasheed, your former president, who fought so hard to bring human rights and democracy to this country, and is now a political prisoner here—one of many, unfortunately. I’m arriving in Malé, in your beautiful country, at, unfortunately, a time when the human rights situation and security situation is deteriorating by the day.
AMY GOODMAN: Amal Clooney is married to the actor George Clooney, and in the United States she’s mainly known for that. But she is a well-know, world-renowned human rights lawyer, and she represents you, Mohamed Nasheed. Can you talk about getting political asylum in Britain, or political refugee status? If you could explain what that is?
MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, basically, I believe that it is providing a safe haven, where I can exercise my freedom of expression and other basic rights. So, we have a view that we must have—we must get all the opposition groups in the Maldives together and to see how we may be able to get the country back on—back on a democratic path. For that, we have been able to come out with a united opposition, where most of its—most of its shadow leaders are behind bars, in jail. But we have a shadow Cabinet that would push for reforms, that would also, hopefully, look to see how we may be able to have a transitional arrangement that would take us to free and fair elections.
Both Amal and Jared and Ben Emmerson, all the three international lawyers, and my legal team in the Maldives have fought very hard, and I’m extremely thankful to Amal and Jared and everyone else for having fought so beautifully and having had all these results come out, so that we may be able to be—are able to engage in peaceful political activity. I think it’s very important that the international community understands the gravity of the issues in the Maldives.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how your ouster, the coup against you in the Maldives in 2012, affected the island’s position on climate change? It was well known the coup was perpetrated by friends and allies of the current president, Abdulla Yameen. And this certainly, and especially when you were imprisoned, silenced your voice for a period around the issue of climate change. What is Yameen’s position? And what are you saying now that you’re out?
MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, I think—I very strongly feel that we must find a low-carbon development strategy. In my view, the science for such a strategy is there. It’s available now. It’s clean energy, better ways of waste disposal and recycling. There is a good, complete development strategy that developing countries can adhere to and can follow. It’s not fossil fuel-based. So I think—I think it’s very, very important for multinational organizations, especially the World Bank and the IMF and other big banks, to clearly understand these strategies, and when they push governments and when they push agencies on development strategies, to have these strategies, the low-carbon development strategies. And I think it’s very important that some country or people advocate for these strategies.
Unfortunately, President Yameen has decided to drill for oil. Unfortunately, President Yameen has decided to drill for oil in the Maldives, and has also decided to increase carbon emission by 300 percent. Of course, what the Maldives does is not going to affect the planet. But for us to be leading the argument, the advocacy, we must have the moral high ground, and we must be able to say that there is another development strategy. We all need a good life. We all need refrigerators, washing
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
MOHAMED NASHEED: —and all the appliances. But we must find a good development strategy.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Nasheed, I want to thank you very much for being with us, ousted president of the Maldives, has just received political refugee status in Britain. We will continue this conversation.
This is Democracy Now! Democracy Now! is hiring a news producer as well as an office coordinator, both full-time jobs in New York. Check our website at democracynow.org. The job openings are immediate.