Comment: A climate hero languishes in prison. Let’s fight to get him out

This article is by Bill McKibben. It was first published on April 16 on

The underwater pictures from the Maldives last weekend brought back a staggering rush of memories.

In 2009, when was still a fledgling organization and not the world’s largest grassroots climate campaign, we’d called for our first global day of action. All around the world people rallied in iconic locations, from the summit of Antarctica’s highest mountain to the middle of Times Square. There were 5,200 demonstrations in all, in what CNN called ‘the most widespread day of political activity in the planet’s history.’ But maybe the most memorable was from the Maldives.

Or rather, from below the Maldives. Where newly elected president Mohamed Nasheed, who had taught his cabinet to scuba dive, convened their regular meeting underwater, on the edge of their threatened coral reef. There they signed a proclamation to the UN, asking that it work to lower the level of carbon in the atmosphere.

Underwater Cabinet

That picture helped bring home the newly dawning truth of global warming—that entire nations like the low-lying Maldives were on the edge of extinction. It also marked Nasheed as the most committed head of state in the climate fight.

But that’s not all Nasheed represented. He’s also the Mandela of the Indian Ocean, the man who through long years of nonviolent resistance freed his nation from a long tyranny and won its first democratic election.

That thug government just receded into the shadows, though, and a few years lateroverthrew Nasheed in a military coup. And now it has jailed him for 13 years on absurd charges of terrorism after a trial that would have delighted Kafka—among other things, the presiding judges were also witnesses against the accused.

The long-suffering people of the Maldives are fighting back, though—peacefully, with massive demonstrations night after night in the streets of Male. And over the weekend, a hundred of them dove down to the reef with scuba tanks, and with banners demanding Nasheed’s release. The picture—a purposeful echo of the moment when he made the world notice his embattled archipelago—should alert the planet once more.

There are signs of international support beginning to emerge. Maybe most significantly the renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (yes, that Clooney) has joined his defense team, bringing both great skill and a bright spotlight. But much more is needed.

For one thing, though Nasheed and his colleagues have not called for a tourist boycott, it’s hard to imagine anyone with a conscience wanting to support the goons running the country at the moment. Its beaches are indeed beautiful—but they will be more beautiful once the Maldives have returned to democratic rule.

Our leaders, too, need to act. India, America, the EU all need to be firm in the demand for Nasheed’s safety (there are great fears for his life as he returns to the prison where he’s already spent so many years) and for his release.

For those of us in the worldwide climate movement, this is not just a moment to stand by one of our own. It’s also a good reminder that we need working, inclusive, democratic governments if we are to make real progress. The autocrats now running the Maldives of course abandoned the Nasheed government’s remarkable plan to turn the nation carbon-neutral and even offered to drill for oil in the surrounding waters; as in so many places around the world, tyranny and fossil fuel have a friendly working relationship.

The Maldives is existentially imperiled by a rising ocean. But before it can fully deal with that predicament it needs its voice back. At the moment that voice is languishing in prison.We all should work to get him out.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

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6 thoughts on “Comment: A climate hero languishes in prison. Let’s fight to get him out”

  1. Climate Hero.. as in guitar hero?
    It would have been nice if Bill McKibben (Mr had voiced an opinion when all the Children's Parks in the sardine packed capital Male were given to party activists to run cafes.

  2. @Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

    If only Mr. Bill McKibben knows the whole story of how the Maldives got rid of the 30-year old dictatorship he would have second thoughts of giving Mr. Nasheed any credit. Well, Mr. Nasheed had to be in jail also for stealing documents from government archives. His involvement in the environmental issues is for show and acting because of his lack of capacity to govern even a small country and also because of lack of experience in administration. During his short tenure of office he wasn't able to manage the economy, education, health and welfare etc. Made a lot of noise within the Maldives while having a habit of making rendezvous all over the world for self-promotion in the name of environment issues especially, sea-level rise. Was he able to do anything except just a "flash-in-the pan" ?

    It just did not happen the way Mr. Bill McKibben has stated in the article above. Mr. Nasheed was still not in the Maldives when it all started. He could have been anywhere overseas because his family had a lot of money. Meanwhile, the older generation of Maldivians who are mostly academics have already taken up stand to pull down the totalitarian regime. This has started happening since late 1980s. They read and wrote and have known that history repeats. And in the Maldives over-throwing of absolute and authoritarian regimes has been the commonest thing next to the coconut palm trees. Events related to attempts (some successful most of the time not) runs in volumes in the annals of its history.

    Well, non- Maldivian writers and activists write about the Maldives in the present times because there is a focus of attention here for the mere fact that the words "the Maldives" are considered to be a universally known brand today. People tend to like to get associated with this brand. Many a time in recent times to self promote themselves and therefore, for the wrong reason .

    The real freedom fighters of the Maldives were the ones who brought in the silent revolution to pull-down the 30-year-old Dictatorship. They shall be considered to be men and women, boys and girls, young and old who wrote and fought and who died, who got lost and till today their names have never been written. But we know them and we will always treasure their works and their lives. The works of historian and freedom writer Old-man-Shafeeg and also his colleagues Hassan Maniku- the- historian and linguist, the-Old-man-Latheef and Ali Moosa Didi still lives on. Please question Professor Adam of University of Aberdeen or even refer to Thor Heyerdahl the Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer with a background in zoology, botany, and geography about the writer /historian Old-Man-Shafeeg. Old-Man-Shafeeg contributed more than 20 short stories with a political twist to usher support for freedom of speech and expression. He spent months in solitary confinement in jail at his old age and still struggling due the consequences of that detention.

    Where was Mr. Nasheed when Mr. Go-Go Latheef masterminded to register the first action of a political party which Old-Man-Shafeeg suggested in his writings? No sooner Mr. Latheef was able to register Maldives Democratic Party -( The MDP of today) HEY HO ! here comes the band-wagon with Mr. Nasheed (ANNI) to dominate the MDP. This is the real history of MDP and Go-Go Latheef and others who were on the forefront were silenced because of money an influence that followed ANNI both within the Maldives and abroad, especially from India and the UK.

    Just because Nasheed played to the tune of "White House and Windsor Castle" and whine and hum-drummed with the "Alternative Narrative" Speech to make FUN of Islam in Copenhagen, one may not make him Hero-and- Maglo, which he does not deserve. People have the right to know the Truth. And Mr. Nasheed has to be put to his right size.

    It was Nasheed's inexperience, immaturity and his virtual and almost total dependency on foreign advice and assistance from India and British PM,that he failed to perform. He resigned on his own accord without even consulting his cabinet. The Truth of the matter and the Fact is that there were riots by then opposition as much as there are riots on Male' streets at nights now mainly orchestrated by malcontents who are pro-Nasheed. The fact that Nasheed locked-up Criminal Court judge without due process is a well known fact by every young and old citizen of the Maldives.

    Why should it be only Nasheed one should be concerned about? This question needed to be answered by the author of the article.

  3. You have him mistaken with Ibrahim Nashid. Anni was never a climate advocate before his time as president. Stop spreading creating legends.

  4. My son, you have no idea what you're talking about.

    "stealing documents from government archives"

    Taking a personal diary from your own office, at the end of your employment in the government/public service is not "stealing documents from government archives".

    Last, but not least, Nasheed was able to do more in 3 short years than your masters in endherimaage ever could in 40 years. In fact, he was able to do what America could not; put pressure on drug cartels by leading investigations against judges in the pay of heroin traffickers.

    You, my son, are blind with hatred and 100Rf notes the regime pays you.

    1. Truth hurts. Distorting facts to mislead public is your habit. Today, public are less convincing to listen to your lies. Enough is enough. Get your dole from endherimaage or from Gayoom's coffers. I have nothing to do with them. Sorry!

      1. My son, I have grown old fighting for the freedom of all Maldivians from the yoke of Maumoon's tyranny. Unlike you, who are dependent on their coffers to buy your oranges and ipads, I have no wish to lower myself to your level for crumbs from a greedy elite who does not care for us.

        So stop trying to write me off as a liar and prove me wrong... if you can.


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