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"The Island President" Forced Out of Office at Gunpoint; Doc Filmmakers Respond to Unrest in Maldives

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by Anthony Kaufman
February 8, 2012 8:03 PM
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The star of upcoming documentary favorite "The Island President," charismatic Maldives president and climate change crusaser Mohammed Nasheed, was forced to resign from office at gunpoint on Tuesday, according to an Op-Ed written by Nasheed that was published by the New York Times today. I spoke with Nasheed for the WSJ.com last year and found him to be an eloquent spokesperson for his people.

Along with producers Bonni Cohen and Richard Berge, filmmaker Jon Shenk ("The Lost Boys of Sudan"), who directed "The Island President" and spent two years following Nasheed around the world, offered this response to the upsetting news:

"Yesterday morning we woke up to the shocking news that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives had resigned his office under duress. According to news reports and local sources, Nasheed faced the choice of using the military to quell a violent demonstration or stepping down to avoid bloodshed.  In line with his long history of peaceful activism, he chose the latter.

"We have heard from eyewitnesses that Nasheed was initially being held under military arrest at the Presidential residence in Malé, the capital. We were told that before Nasheed stepped down, demonstrators loyal to former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, stood outside the President’s office shouting “Gayoom! Gayoom!” 

"In addition to forcing his ouster, demonstrators stormed the national television station, detained journalists and replaced independent programming with that of the station run by Gayoom’s allies.  It was reported to us, that last night the streets of Malé were eerily quiet with a military curfew imposed on the capital.  Today, Nasheed spoke at a rally for the Maldivian Democratic Party and then led a peaceful march on the streets of the capital.  The protesters were met by police in camouflage, with helmets, truncheons and tear gas. Many injuries are being reported.

"As filmmakers who spent two years off and on with President Nasheed while making 'The Island President' we witnessed a leader committed to transparent governance,  multi-party democracy, and the struggle for human rights.  This struggle includes his leadership in the fight against climate change that so threatens the Maldives and the rest of us.  This is not the first time that Nasheed has suffered a political setback in his fight for justice in the Maldives.  We expect this is just the next chapter.   We are deeply concerned for Nasheed’s safety, we stand in solidarity with him and hope others will join us."

I'm not sure what Nasheed supporters can do right now to help him, but I imagine calling your Senators couldn't hurt.
 

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