LAST night Mohamed Nasheed, the former democratically-elected leader of the Maldives (that string of 1,200 or so beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean that holidaymakers love so much), was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The charges against him were trumped up by figures connected to the current leader of the Maldives, President Abdulla Yameen – the half-brother of a dictator who ran the country for 30 years prior to Nasheed’s democratic election in 2008.
This may sound complicated but the basics are this: an honest man who tried to bring forward-thinking policies to the Maldives – taking on corrupt politicians and resort owners – has found himself banged away on false allegations, without having had the chance for proper legal representation.
In court Nasheed issued a statement accusing the judges in the case of having been bribed and called on Maldivians “to not be afraid of being arrested or facing a long sentence; to take all of your lives in your hands and to go out onto the streets in protest. Do not consider the security of your personal lives or the transitory happiness of your wives, husbands, children, parents and relatives; for the security of all of your children and their children is in jeopardy”.
In short: start the revolution.
This has been coming for some time. Trouble has been percolating in this honeymoon “paradise” and now it is about to boil over.
I sensed (and reported on) this undercurrent of angst when I visited the watery nation for my just-published travel book about the Maldives (Gatecrashing Paradise).
Now all the upset has come to the surface in the mistrial of Nasheed, whom I interviewed in the book and who predicted turbulence ahead.
Tour operators sending holidaymakers to sip cocktails by infinity pools need now to sit up and pay close attention. Tourists themselves need to begin to question why they should chose to visit a country to relax when there is such a strong undercurrent of discontent.
Nasheed’s call to take to the streets is not just about his personal circumstances. It represents the frustrations of many of the hijacking of power from an on-the-surface democratic system (albeit a young one), financial corruption among tax-dodging tourist resort owners, widespread bribery, a rise in Islamic fundamentalism encouraged by the current dictator in order to foster an appearance of legitimate support, a blind eye turned to human trafficking (mainly Bangladeshi workers on big construction sites), the harassment of journalists who try to pursue stories sensitive to regime, and much else…
Tourists: are you still lying comfortably on your sun lounger?
With one fell swoop, the current President Yameen could have offered the Maldives – such a world-renowned symbol of “paradise” and happy holidays by beaches – a chance. He could have ordered the dropping of the strange charges against Nasheed, which related to the arrest of a judge several years ago when Nasheed was briefly in power before being ousted by a police and military coup.
He could have faced up to the possibility that he might not win the next election.
He could have remained a wealthy man.
He would have had a clear conscience.
However, he chose not to take this route, risking the security of the country that he is meant to protect in order to hang on to power.
Well done President Yameen.
When people do take to the streets, which undoubtedly they will, he would be wise to realize that the game is now up.