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We need to stand with small island states


The former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, is now in prison on a terrorism charge. MinivanNews under a Creative Commons Licence

Over the last 48 hours, the South Pacific island of Vanuatu has been struck by a devastating category five cyclone, destroying thousands of homes and lives.

Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands have also suffered the wrath of Cyclone Pam. Meanwhile, in a small cell in the Indian Ocean, a Maldivian man faces 13 years in prison.

The violence wrought by Pam and the injustice suffered by the imprisoned Mohamed Nasheed are separate events. Yet in the struggle for climate justice, particularly justice for small island states, the two are crucially interrelated.

Both demonstrate the power of grassroots movements and the risks they face, as well as the importance of international solidarity.

Mohamed Nasheed, the former President of the Republic of the Maldives, was briefly the darling of international climate negotiations and the face of the frontline of climate change.

He shone a spotlight on small island states and the dangers they faced from rising sea levels, showing his island home to be more than just a luxury tourist destination.

Charismatic, media-savvy and unafraid to court controversy, he dramatically declared that the Maldives would buy new land if forced to relocate, held an underwater cabinet meeting, pledged the Maldives would go carbon neutral by 2020 and personally installed solar panels on the roof of Muleeaage, the Maldives’ answer to 10 Downing Street.

He was a force for change within the Alliance for Small Island States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, and a founding member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

But do we really believe such changes can just be the work of individuals? Nasheed, or Anni, as he is commonly known, was part of multiple vibrant social and political movements, both those advocating for climate justice, and those which fought for human rights in his homeland.

Anni’s life prior to becoming president makes this clear. The Maldives, an atoll nation in the Indian Ocean, is more than a playground of five-star beach resorts. Up until 2008, it was also one of the longest-running dictatorships in Asia, with 30 years of autocratic and repressive rule to its name.

In the late 2000s, back in the winter before the Arab Spring, an uprising transformed the country into one of the world’s newest democracies.

Anni and his comrades were journalists, dissidents, political prisoners and overseas exiles who campaigned for change on the streets, on the beaches and on the radio waves. And, albeit briefly, they won.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was legalized. Free elections were held. The MDP formed a coalition and came to power with Anni as President, bringing climate change to the fore in the international arena.

It’s no surprise then that one of the few heads of state who can be considered a bona fide climate activist began his political journey not by climbing the ladder of professional politics, but in the heat of the grassroots struggle.

This journey has begun to come full circle. Anni, who had endured multiple periods of imprisonment, house arrest, exile and solitary confinement in his struggle for Maldivian democracy, has found himself back in a jail cell.

In 2012, four years after his election, he was deposed in what he describes as a military coup. He has since been found guilty of terrorism charges in a trial which has been decried as a sham and questioned by the British and US governments, and has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

As isolated as Mohamed Nasheed may be right now, he is not alone in this fight. Around the world, people are demanding that Anni regain his freedom: petitions are being signed, filmmakers and activists across the world have condemned his detention and a boycott of tourism in the Maldives has been announced.

In the wake of Pam, the grassroots movements for climate justice necessary to win this fight and save island nations are growing in strength and power.

On the ground in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, grassroots environmental group 350 Vanuatu has been helping by evacuating the city’s population into shelters, distributing food rations and uploading footage and videos of Pam’s impacts, in order to share Vanuatu’s story with the world.

Across the globe, people are sending digital messages of strength and solidarity to those affected by Pam, using the hashtag #PrayForThePacific, co-ordinated by the grassroots climate justice network 350 Pacific.

Whether it means facing up to state repression, the power of the fossil fuel industry or the violence of natural disasters, this struggle for climate justice will be long, hard and not easily won. We need to stand in solidarity with islanders around the world who are leading this struggle, from Vanuatu to the Maldives.

They deserve our love, prayers and action and they deserve to have their voices heard.

For the latest news on Anni’s trial, visit Minivan News, while his struggle for political and climate justice is well documented here. The petition for his release is available here.

Send your messages of solidarity to those affected by Pam using the hashtag #PrayForThePacific on Facebook and Twitter and your messages of support will be conveyed to those in Vanuatu here.  You can follow the actions of 350 Pacific on the ground through their liveblog and the 350 Pacific Facebook page.

Donations are being taken for post-disaster relief and recovery in Vanuatu by the following charities
- Oxfam Vanuatu Appeal
- UNICEF Cyclone Pam Appeal
- Red Cross Cyclone Pam Appeal
- Save The Children Cyclone Pam Appeal
- CARE Australia Cyclone Pam Response

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