We have to help small island states eg. Vanuatu and the Maldives

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We need to help small island states – eg. Vanuatu and the Maldives

By Hannah Fair


Mohamed Nasheed, who was President of the Maldives, is now in prison. They say he is a terrorist. (MinivanNews under a Creative Commons Licence)

Vanuatu, the South Pacific island, was hit by a terrible cyclone. It destroyed thousands of homes and lives. Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands have also suffered from Cyclone Pam. And, in a small prison cell in the Indian Ocean, a man from the Maldives will be in prison for 13 years.

The destruction by Cyclone Pam and the injustice of Mohamed Nasheed in prison are not the same thing. But in the fight for climate justice, these two problems are very closely.

Both show the power and risks of peoples' movements. And the importance of international solidarity.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was President of the Republic of the Maldives, was at the centre of international climate negotiations. He was the face of climate change.

He told the world about small island states and the dangers they face from rising sea levels. He showed that his island home is not just a place for expensive holidays.

He is full of energy and not afraid of saying things people don’t agree with. He said that the Maldives would buy new land if their island went under water. He organised a meeting of his government under water. He promised the Maldives would be carbon neutral by 2020. And he personally put solar panels on the roof of Muleeaage, the President’s house.

He changed a lot in the Alliance for Small Island States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, and he helped start the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

But all these changes are not just made by individual people. Nasheed, or Anni, as many people call him, was part of many lively social and political movements, fighting for climate justice, and for human rights in the Maldives.

We can see this from Anni’s life before he was president. The Maldives, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, has many five-star beach resorts. But also, until 2008, it was one of the longest dictatorships (30 years) in Asia.

In the late 2000s, in the winter before the Arab Spring, there was a revolution and the people changed the country into one of the world’s newest democracies.

Anni and friends were journalists, political prisoners and people who didn’t agree with the dictatorship who had moved to other countries. They campaigned for change on the streets, on the beaches and on the radios. And they won. But only for a short time.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) became legal. They had free elections. The MDP formed a coalition and came to power with Anni as President. They made climate change important internationally.

Anni is one of the few heads of state who is a real climate activist. He started in politics with his people in a real fight for democracy.

Anni was in prison many times, and under house arrest, in exile and solitary confinement in his fight for Maldivian democracy. But now he is back in prison.

In 2012, four years after his election, he was taken from power. He says it was a military coup. The trial (which British and US governments said was not legal or fair) decided he was guilty terrorism. And he now has 13 years in prison.

Mohamed Nasheed is now alone in prison. But he is not alone in this fight. Around the world, people are demanding freedom for Anni: there are petitions, filmmakers and activists across the world have said how bad it is, and there is a boycott on tourism in the Maldives.

After Cyclone Pam, the peoples’ movements for climate justice, to win this fight and save island nations, are growing in strength and power.

In Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, the environmental group 350 Vanuatu has been helping. They put many people in shelters and gave out food. And they shared videos of the effects of the cyclone, to share Vanuatu’s story with the world.

This fight for climate justice will be long and difficult. We need to fight state repression, the power of the fossil fuel industry and the violence of natural disasters. We need to fight with islanders around the world, from Vanuatu to the Maldives.

They deserve our love, prayers and action. The world must listen to their voices.

Petition for the release of Anni: https://www.change.org/p/president-yaameen-abdul-gayoom-release-president-mohamed-nasheed

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2015/03/16/vanuatu-maldives-climate-change/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).