Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives—a renowned climate and human rights crusader who was ousted in a military coup in 2012—was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of terrorism.
Nasheed, a former political prisoner who already bears the nickname "Mandela of the Maldives," called on his supporters to take to the streets to protest against the sentence after a trial his party said was "blatantly politicized."
"I appeal to all of you today to stay courageous and strong, to confront the dictatorial power of this regime," his office quoted him as saying.
The former president's alleged offense—the detention of a senior judge—dates back to shortly before his forced resignation in 2012. According to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), over the course of the trial, Nasheed was repeatedly denied legal representation, denied the right to appeal, his defense witnesses were prevented from taking the stand, and prosecution witnesses were routinely coached by the judges and the police.
Nasheed's legal team resigned earlier this week, stating that the court had refused them proper time to prepare a defense. The three-judge bench that passed down the sentence included two judges who had acted as witnesses for the prosecution.
The verdict came amid growing opposition to the government of President Abdulla Yameen and will effectively prevent Nasheed from running for president in the 2018 elections.
According to the MDP, Nasheed delivered a passionate statement following his sentencing, in which he appealed to Maldivian citizens: "To change this government and work towards forming a government that would pave the way for the people’s development and prosperity; 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 either 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.
Why am I calling for such a sacrifice? Know this for sure: it is not for my own well being. I am not staying in jail, a captive, because I have no way out. I could easily secure my freedom and happiness by agreeing to stop the work I am doing, and falling at President Yameen's feet. I could choose to live in riches, in comfort, and in joy. But if I choose that path, Maldivians will reach a tragic end. Maldivians will be deprived of what they rightfully deserve: freedom, dignity and democracy. They will never be allowed to stand tall. Forever, they will be forced to cower before this dictatorial regime.
I accepted the results of the 2013 presidential election in good faith. I believed President Abdulla Yameen’s government would uphold the noble principles of Islam. I accepted the results in the hope that this would be a government that would respect democratic norms.
But consider how things have transpired in the year and a half since the election. The Maldivian judiciary is full of corruption and disgrace. Judges are routinely accepting the vile money of bribery. These judges have no fear of the day of judgment, and no shame in this world. The consequence of their actions is injustice to the public, and the thwarting of this country’s development.
But in this time of profound injustice, I harbor no hatred. And to those who seek to destroy me, I say: I wish upon you good grace and blessings. I wish for good blessings upon us all, in this world and the next.
While Nasheed's lawyers vowed to appeal the conviction, governments around the world expressed concern about the development.
"The conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed for charges under anti-terrorist legislation raises very serious questions about due process of law and risks undermining people's trust in the independence of the judiciary," an E.U. foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.
The Guardian reports that Nasheed's "supporters have been protesting daily since his arrest, sometimes at sea near the island where he was imprisoned. On Friday night they staged a sit-in near the court building, but were pepper sprayed and dispersed. The mood in Malé remains somber."