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Dispatches: Documenting the Troubling Political Devolution in the Maldives

News and notes from Pacific Standard staff and contributors.

Abdulla Yameen, the president of the Maldives, is continuing his authoritarian overhaul of the state. Yameen came into power via a controversial election in 2013, and subsequently imprisoned his campaign opponent, former journalist Mohamed Nasheed, for nine years on dubious charges. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that he has now declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrests of two Supreme Court judges, a former president, as well as other political opponents.

EDITOR IN EXILE: One of her reporters disappeared. A machete was lodged in her office door. Then came the death threats. As the top editor at the Maldives Independent, Zaheena Rasheed fought for the truth even as those in power worked against it.

In light of these events, we want to point to a Pacific Standard story that was on this topic, in an in-depth way, long before many other American outlets. Last July, Lois Parshley documented this troubling political devolution in terrifying and stark detail. Parshley profiled investigative journalist and top editor of the Maldives Independent Zaheena Rasheed, who fled the country after her reporting revealed a state-sponsored money laundering scheme. The story also outlines Yameen's authoritarian tactics: his intimidation of the press, his association with gangsters, and his prosecutorial pursuit of his enemies.

According to political scientists and human rights advocates, Yameen's behavior is part of a new model of "market authoritarianism," in which leaders attempt to use "the trappings of former democracy,"—a judicial system, for example—to distract citizens from the gradual corruption of their government. What is so chilling about Parsley's story is that Zaheena saw glimmers of these authoritarian traits in our own president.Zaheena and other journalists were often dismissed as alarmists due to their voicing concerns about Yameen's actions. A critique often leveled at those raising concerns about President Trump's actions. Back in July, Zaheena had these words of advice to her U.S. counterparts, "In many ways we weren't alarmist enough. This is something American journalists will have to keep in mind. Don't give in to those labels."

As the political environment in America continues to evolve, in increasingly troubling ways, it's more and more important to look outside our borders for important context and understanding of how to deal with our country's shifting socio-political dynamics. We are committed to bringing these stories to our readers through this kind of reporting, so that they can make informed, thoughtful decisions and hold our government officials to account.

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This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of