For many of us, the Maldives are an island paradise, a playground for honeymooners or a once in a lifetime destination. Yet despite the image of unspoilt beaches and turquoise oceans, the Maldives are in a state of political turmoil. Recent footage from the capital, Male, shows the former president Mohamed Nasheed being dragged by groups of paramilitary style police officers. Stood outside the court, awaiting trial, he can be seen being manhandled by the accompanying officers (see below). A situation which, many years ago, would have been unnoticed, now spread around the world by the power of social media.
President Nasheed was the Maldives first democratically elected president. Viewed by many as a reformer, he came to power in 2008 replacing the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who prior to that was the region’s longest serving leader. During his time Nasheed became known in part as an environmentalist, even going as far as holding a cabinet meeting underwater in order to highlight the risks climate change would pose to the low lying island nation.
Nasheed’s rule came to an end when he resigned, reportedly at gunpoint, in what many commentators at the time described as a “coup d’etat”. Throughout his early political career, he was imprisoned and believed to have been tortured on a number of occasions by those loyal to his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The Maldives is an Islamic state, and has been since the 12th century. Consisting of almost 1200 islands, many uninhabited, it is no more than two metres above sea level. Climate change is perhaps the most pressing long term problem, but at present, political unrest is of greater concern. First a Dutch protectorate, and then British, the country was an independent sultanate from 1965, becoming a republic from 1968 under Ibrahim Nasir. In 1978, President Gayoom took the helm, deposed by Nasheed in 2008.
Fast forward to the events of the past week, with views of a distressed Nasheed being dragged into the court building. Former president Nasheed has been arrested on charges of terrorism, having ordering the arrest of a prominent judge during his time in power. Undoubtedly embarrassing for the current administration who strongly deny mistreatment of Nasheed, despite video footage suggesting the contrary. The administration of Abdulla Yameen, the incumbent president, have issued a number of statements justifying the arrest of his predecessor, outlining the legality of his arrest and offering reassurances that the Nasheed’s trial is within the letter of the law, and will be free and fair. This is inspite of the fact that two of the three trial judges in the hearing are witnesses for the prosecution. A clear conflict of interest, calling into doubt the fairness of such a trial. Supporters of Nasheed have taken to the streets of Male to protest for his release, with thousands marching through the capital.
The images of a former head of state being hauled through across the ground have resulted in censure and concern from the international community, with the EU, UK, USA, Canada and the Commonwealth expressing consternation. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have issued guidance on travelling to the country.