Exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed was bestowed the prestigious ‘2017 Courage Award’ on Tuesday by a coalition of 25 international human rights groups at the ninth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
The Maldives’ opposition leader also headlined the acclaimed conference, a global gathering of dissidents and human rights defenders that takes place before the opening of the UN Human Rights Council session in Switzerland.
Presenting the award to Nasheed, Astrid Thors, former high commissioner on national minorities at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he was recognised for “inspiring the world with your extraordinary courage in defence of liberty and universal human rights.”
Last year’s recipients of the Courage Award were Venezuelan opposition leaders and political prisoners Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez. Previous winners have included Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng and Saudi writer and activist Raif Badawi.
Along with Nasheed, the speakers at this year’s conference included dissidents from Cuba, Russia, Turkey, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam, Mauritania, Iran and Venezuela, who testified of human rights abuses and urged the UN Human Rights Council to take action.
In his remarks at the summit, Nasheed spoke about his journey from an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in the early 1990s to the presidency in 2008 and the “televised coup” of February 2012 to conceding defeat in November 2013 to avoid “internal conflict” and instability.
Nasheed thanked his heavyweight international lawyers, Jared Genser, Amal Clooney, and Ben Emmerson, as well as his Maldivian legal team for securing his release from prison.
The 49-year-old was granted political asylum in the UK last May after he was authorised to seek medical treatment there amidst mounting foreign pressure.
“I will go back to the Maldives again. I will go back to jail again,” he reiterated.
“I’m sure if I go back, I go straight to jail. But I have decided not to give up, never, never ever give up. And we will continue this fight.”
After travelling to Sri Lanka in late January to meet with the leadership of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Nasheed had announced his intention to seek the party’s presidential ticket.
But he is presently ineligible to contest in the 2018 presidential election due to his 13-year jail sentence. The supreme court has upheld his conviction in early 2015 on the controversial terrorism charge, which related to the arrest of a judge during his tenure, disqualifying him from becoming a presidential candidate.
Earlier this month, President Abdulla Yameen dismissed Nasheed’s presidential ambitions as futile because he is legally barred from contesting in the 2018 polls.
A day later, Nasheed told reporters in Colombo that he would seek international assistance to overcome legal hurdles to his candidacy and challenged Yameen to face him in a free and fair election.
Yameen has since stepped up attacks against Nasheed in subsequent public appearances. Speaking at the opening of the ruling party’s new headquarters, he said Nasheed came to power as a champion of democracy but proceeded to “slaughter democracy and paid no heed to what the public’s rights were.”
During visits to islands in Kaafu atoll last week, Yameen also criticised alleged interference in domestic affairs by Western powers, a recurring theme in the president’s speeches.
Accusing “Western imperialists” of destroying powerful Islamic states during the past six years, Yameen said the Maldives also faces “the same burdens or difficulties, in the name of modernising matters or fitting to democracy or constitutional principles.”
The purpose of exerting such influence is to create chaos and unrest in the Maldives, he claimed.
“This has happened to big Islamic states. And those states are struggling to recover from the damage,” he told the people of Thulusdhoo.
Nasheed meanwhile met with UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva on Tuesday and briefed him on “the deteriorating political situation”.
According to the former president’s office, the UN human rights chief assured Nasheed that he will continue to call for the release of political prisoners and work towards ensuring that next year’s election is free and fair.
On Wednesday, Nasheed met with the ambassadors of the UK and Finland to the UN. During his stay in Colombo, he also met with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) February 21, 2017
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) February 12, 2017
Concluding his remarks at the Geneva summit, Nasheed meanwhile observed that democratic gains are in peril across the globe: “The future is looking like the past…The strongman is on the rise again. Mind you, it’s always a man. That man will arrest us, that man will torture us, that man will make us confess to his world view.
“That man will bring up trumped up charges in kangaroo courts. That man will sentence us. That man will suppress us. I have actually come here today to tell you to stand up against that man. Stand up and do not blink.”
He urged artists, activists, NGOs, lawyers, and diplomats to “agitate and build civil, political, and economic structures that will bring down dictatorships and authoritarian rule everywhere.”
“We can do this peacefully. We must engage in peaceful political activity, we must destabilise and subvert the strong man.”
Source URL: Maldives Independent