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Westminster graduate released Saturday after arrest Friday in Maldives

Shauna Aminath, center, a Westminster College of Fulton graduate, is held back by Republic of Maldives riot police during a recent demonstration calling for a return to democracy in the Island nation off the tip of India.

Shauna Aminath, center, a Westminster College of Fulton graduate, is held back by Republic of Maldives riot police during a recent demonstration calling for a return to democracy in the Island nation off the tip of India. Contributed photo

A former Westminster College student who was arrested Friday in the Republic of Maldives after a political demonstration was released Saturday after appearing in court and promising not to participate in any more demonstrations for the next 21 days.

Dr. Barney Forsythe, Westminster president, said Shauna Aminath, who is a 2008 graduate of Westminster College, was arrested in her home country of the Republic of Maldives, an island nation located off the tip of India, “while attending a peaceful demonstration.”

She was taken to Dhoonidhoo detention island where she was held in police custody.

Forsythe said he received news Saturday that Aminath was released.

On Friday John Langton, professor of political science at Westminster, said he feared for Aminath’s safety and her life. He issued a plea to President Obama to demand her immediate release from prison and to grant her political asylum in the United States, saying she was the victim of political repression.

“Shauna was a political science major at Westminster and I was her advisor. I know her well. She was a leader of foreign students when she attended Westminster. She is a nonviolent advocate of democracy and I am sure she was arrested because she was involved in a demonstration asking for a return to democracy after a military coup in the Maldives,” Langton said Friday.

Langton said he received emailed photos of her demonstrating recently for a return to democracy.

“I emailed back to her to be cautious when dealing with the current government that overthrew the elected government,” Langton said.

Langton said the Maldivian Democratic Party was deeply concerned about her safety because of the documented abuses of other detainees held in police custody since the coup d’etat on Feb. 7.

On that date former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in the face of political hostility from the former regime that his election overturned.

Aminath is president of the Maldivian Democratic Party Youth Wing and policy secretary.

Langton said Aminath is well known internationally for her pro-democracy work and also as an advocate to stop climate change. She was featured in the film “The Island President,” detailing former President Nasheed’s first year in office.

Langton said after her graduation from Westminster, Nasheed had appointed Aminath as a deputy undersecretary in the president’s office. She served until Feb. 7 when Nasheed was forced to resign under threat of violence in a coup backed by an alliance between security forces loyal to the former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Islamist activists.

As deputy undersecretary in President Nasheed’s policy office, Aminath managed the administration’s policy on climate change after she worked for his election.

Langton said the melting of glaciers caused by global warming will increase ocean levels. “The island nation could disappear,” he said.

Aminath helped lead the Nasheed administration’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020. In 2009 she was the lead coordinator of President Nasheed’s cabinet meeting held underwater wearing scuba diving gear to demonstrate the danger of global warming that could melt glaciers and cause ocean levels to rise.

Aminath was born in Hulhudhoo Island of Addu Atoll in the Maldives. In 2002 she received a scholarship to study at the United World College of the Pacific in Canada.

She later attended Westminster College in Fulton. In 2008 she received a degree in political science, economics and environmental science from Westminster.

She became a newspaper reporter at Minivan News, an English language newspaper in the Maldives.

“Shauna has incredible language skills. She speaks flawless English,” Langton said. “I was her advisor at Westminster and we became very close.”

After she joined President Nasheed’s administration in 2008, Aminath was the lead representative from the Maldives during United Nations climate negotiations.

Forsythe said Aminath was a leader of the college’s International Club. She was one of the first students to participate in the college’s “Take a Friend Home” program. She hosted a Missouri student in her Maldives home for several weeks.

At Westminster, Aminath was president of ECOS , the Environmentally Concerned Student Council.

“I am greatly relieved,” Forsythe said Saturday, “that she has been released in what appears to be a peaceful resolution to her plight. We are so thankful to receive this wonderful news this morning and wish her well in the days ahead.”

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