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"As president, Yameen (pictured here) is once again in control of what remains a fully nationalized oil industry, and stands to gain huge amounts if oil drilling goes ahead." (Photo: AP)

"As president, Yameen (pictured here) is once again in control of what remains a fully nationalized oil industry, and stands to gain huge amounts if oil drilling goes ahead." (Photo: AP)

In Attempt to Muzzle Opposition, 'Petro Dictatorship' Declares State of Emergency in Maldives

Questions rise as to whether imprisonment of former president and climate hero Mohamed Nasheed was an 'oil grab' as much as a power one

Lauren McCauley

Rule of law appears to have been suspended in the Maldives as what opponents describe as the country's "thuggish Petro Dictatorship" late Tuesday declared a 30-day state of emergency, under which citizens' constitutional rights are revoked, media is restricted, and police forces are granted sweeping authority to arrest anyone they deem a threat to security.

The crackdown comes ahead of major opposition rally on Friday organized by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the party of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed was the nation's first democratically elected president before he was ousted in 2012 and sentenced to 13 years in jail earlier this year on alleged terror charges.

The imposition of the state of emergency comes amid a deteriorating political situation, including the arrest of Vice President Ahmed Adeeb on Saturday for an alleged assassination attempt against President Abdulla Yameen. The Maldives Independent has a live blog of the unfolding situation.

The MDP issued a statement on Wednesday calling the state of emergency "a desperate attempt, by a President who is losing his grip, to cling onto power." In addition to Nasheed, Yameen has jailed or threatened every opposition leader, and placed criminal charges on 1,700 others who participated in pro-democracy protests.

In an op-ed published Wednesday, Mark Lynas, former climate change advisor to Nasheed, argues there may be more at play than "the mere ambition of an autocratic regime to stifle dissent and opposition."

In a little-reported development, the reigning government in late September submitted its climate action plan (pdf) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Nasheed, known widely as a "climate hero," had set the island nation on course to become the world's first carbon-neutral nation. However, the Yameen administration has apparently scrapped these ambitions in favor of a plan that triples the country's emissions by 2030 and imports huge amounts of oil for power generation. What's more, Yameen has announced plans to drill for oil underneath the Maldives' pristine coral reefs.

Lynas explains: "As president, Yameen is once again in control of what remains a fully nationalized oil industry, and stands to gain huge amounts if oil drilling goes ahead," adding: 

All of this adds up to a powerful motivation for keeping Nasheed in jail. As president, Nasheed not only angered the autocrats with his commitment to democracy and freedom of speech, but he also threatened the financial interests of the powerful cartel of oil traders who stood to lose billions if the country ditched diesel and converted to solar. What better way for the interests of the fossil fuel industry to be protected than for the lead oil trader to help orchestrate a coup and then assume the presidency himself?

Against this backdrop, a growing chorus of human rights organizations are calling for Nasheed's release. On Tuesday, a coalition of 13 U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) submitted a resolution (pdf) to Congress calling for the immediate release of Nasheed and all other political prisoners in the country, "as well as guarantee[d] due process for and respect the human rights of all of the people of the Maldives."

And in September, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) ruled his imprisonment illegal under international law.

Lynas concludes that given the complete deterioration of rule of law in the Maldives, it is imperative that international leaders now step forward.

"With the opposition muzzled or imprisoned, and pro-democracy protests met with extreme violence by the police, the onus has now shifted on to the international community to enforce the judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention," he writes.

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