Environmental NGO 350.org has joined international organisations and foreign powers in expressing their concerns over Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation from the presidency yesterday in what Nasheed’s government has called a military coup.
The organisation is founded by American author Bill McKibben, author of one of the first books on global warming for the general public. 350.org was also a key player at the 2009 Climate Conference at Copenhagen.
As of 2:00pm on February 7, the organisation had issued the petition “350 Friend and Ally Removed from Office in a Coup”, requesting world leaders to protect former president Mohamed Nasheed.
“President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives has been one of 350.org’s strongest allies, and friends, for many years. As the first democratically elected leader of the small island nation, he has been a tireless voice for climate action and strong advocate for getting us back to 350 ppm. ‘For us, this is a matter of life and death,’ Nasheed has said. Now it is he specifically who is at risk,” reads the statement.
The organisation urges world citizens to tell its leaders “that they must use diplomatic means to keep [Nasheed] safe in this time of turmoil. Assuring his, and his people’s, safety is crucial.”
In its first four hours the petition has received 21, 894 signatures. “This is an amazing response- it shows that environmental activists in every corner of the planet think of Nasheed as one of the most prominent leaders we have,” wrote McKibben in an email exchange with Minivan News. “People all over the world know the story of the bravery of the Maldives in this fight.”
Stating that 350.org perceives Nasheed’s resignation as the in-name only result of a coup, McKibben said “the international environmental community is deeply deeply worried first and foremost about Nasheed’s safety, and the safety of his associates.”
In 2011 the documentary film “The Island President” featuring then President Mohamed Nasheed drew global attention to the Maldives, and its role in the climate change movement.
At the time of the film’s Maldives debut producer Richard Berge identified Nasheed as the key to the documentary’s success. “If Nasheed hadn’t been charismatic, if we couldn’t see that there would be something interesting happening, we wouldn’t have invested the time and energy in the project. But he seemed like the guy who was going to put a face on climate change.”
“The Island President” received the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
According to McKibben, the Maldives’ current place on the climate change platform is a product of Nasheed’s distinct sense of leadership.
“Nasheed is the most forthright, honest, and engaged head of state on the climate issue–the most important issue facing the planet,” he said. “His predecessor [former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] had very little profile on these issues. Certainly he did not create the kind of movement towards carbon neutrality, or the level of global political engagement, that captured the world’s attention.”
McKibben added that youth were a critical aspect the climate change movement–and a telling feature of Nasheed’s government. “Of course it wasn’t just Nasheed–it was so many of the (especially young) people who got involved in politics because of him. I remember the level of engagement I found during my last visit to Male–and how it contrasted with the silence and apathy when I’d visited during the Gayoom era,” he said.
Noting 350.org’s impression that “good policies of all kinds tend to wither in autocracies,” McKibben said he was unaware of any existing relationship with members of the current national unity government under former Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Western followers and Maldivian nationals appear to be engaging in a dialogue over the matter in the petition’s comment section.
While one woman states “This is a situation that should not be allowed to exist in the 21st century,” a commentator with a plausibly Maldivian name retorted “[Nasheed] may be a hero or a champion for the West but he is a stupid zero in his own country,” offering his own summary of the events which have led to Nasheed’s resignation.
Another commenter with a Western name observed, “Maldives deserve democracy free of corruption and military takeover. They continue to be in a precarious environmental situation, not one of their making and are likely to be flooded over by rising water levels as a result of climate change. President Nasheed needs to be freed to complete his term of office.”
An Ahmed Hameed retorted, “hmmm.. thats your view… but we elected him to serve us maldivians… and it for us to decide who will govern our nation for us in that office… there is no need for him to complete his term in office because we dont want him or anyone like him to be our president… so please dont talk about him completing a term in office… but yes as a citizen of this country he needs to be freed if he is in any kind of detention which he is not…”
One self-identified Hulhumale’ Councillor wrote simply, “He will come back.”
Meanwhile, McKibben notes that some commentators and 350.org members have asked what they can do to help. “Some are even asking: ‘should I cancel my trip to the Maldives to show support for President Nasheed?’”