The Maldives: Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Talk Tuesday 12 July 2016, 7:00 PM

Largely known for its luxury holiday resorts and stream of beach tourists, until 2008 the Maldives was also home to Asia’s longest-serving dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The coming to power that year of the country’s first democratically-elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, brought Gayoom’s thirty-year authoritarian rule to an end. Yet the Maldives’ transition to democracy was not to be so simple. In February 2012, a military coup deposed President Nasheed, who was subsequently tried, found guilty of domestic terrorism charges, and sentenced to 13 years in prison – in proceedings roundly criticised by the UN, Amnesty International and the international community at large.

As the country sinks into an increasingly repressive regime under the helm of current President Abdulla Yameen – and strengthens ties with China and Saudi Arabia – we will be joined by exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, journalist and author of The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy JJ Robinson, and others, to discuss the current situation in this small yet turbulent archipelago.

With at least 100 Maldivian jihadists now fighting in Syria and Iraq, a significant share of the country’s modest population, we will also discuss the increasing role of Islamism – as well as the implications for the wider South Asia region. We will explore hopes for the future and the role of an increasingly-repressed media in supporting an eventual transition to democracy – all as the impending threat of climate change on the low-lying islands continues to loom large.

This event will be chaired by BBC News South Asia editor Charles Haviland.

Mohamed Nasheed is a politician, environmental and human rights activist, and served as the fourth, and first democratically-elected, President of the Maldives from 2008 until 2012. In 2010, Newsweek included President Nasheed in its list of the ‘World’s Ten Best Leaders’, and he is frequently dubbed the ‘Mandela of the Maldives’. Nasheed is the recipient of numerous international awards, including the Anna Lindh Prize in recognition of his work promoting human rights, democracy and environmental protection, and the James Lawson Award for the practice of non-violent action.

JJ Robinson is a journalist and author of The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy. He spent four years working as an editor of the Maldives’ first independent English-language news outlet, and was among the only foreign witnesses to the 2012 coup d’état that toppled Nasheed‘s government. He was the Maldives’ Reuters correspondent and its Reporters Without Borders representative, and has appeared on the BBC, Radio Australia, Al Jazeera and other outlets as a Maldives expert.

Abbas Faiz is an independent South Asia specialist focusing on a number of countries including the Maldives. Until early 2016, he worked as a senior researcher with Amnesty International. He has travelled widely within the region and has authored scores of reports, press releases and policy documents during his 30-year working time with Amnesty, covering human rights concerns in almost all countries of South Asia including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. He has given in-depth interviews on human rights issues to a range of media, including Al Jazeera, ABC, CNN and the BBC, and has written for the Guardian, New Statesman and the Lancet amongst others. He has closely monitored the human rights situation in the Maldives over the past 20 years, and has provided strong support during this period to the country’s ongoing movement for democracy and human rights protection.