Saturday 20th Jul 2024
Dhivehi Edition
News Reports Sports Business

Indian Military Presence in Maldives: High Court to Decide on Reveal

MALE, MALDIVES - In a significant development in the quest for government transparency, the Maldivian High Court heard the latest in a series of appeals by Maldives Journal journalist, Azaan. The appeal is part of an ongoing case concerning the withholding of information by the Defence Ministry about the number of Indian military personnel based in the Maldives.
During today's hearing, the presiding judges cast doubt on the claims made by the Information Commissioner and Defence Ministry to justify withholding the military numbers. They pointed out the lack of verifiability regarding the threats to national security, as stated by the Information Commissioner following his meeting with the National Advisory Body of Maldives National Defence Force.

Addressing the journalist, the bench asked two critical questions: how other nations handle similar situations and why it is in the public interest to know the number of Indian soldiers in the Maldives.

Azaan offered an insightful response, citing his Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to the UK's Ministry of Defence. The FOI concerned the number of U.S. troops based in the UK, information the British government willingly shared. Azaan argued that this demonstrated how democratic societies do not hide such data.

To the second question, Azaan underlined the importance of the public interest test, highlighting that in this case, the public's best interest is served by disclosing the numbers.

The Chief Presiding Judge, Hussein Shaheed, added that the Information Commissioner seemed to have reached a decision without examining all the evidence. He queried how a conclusion was reached regarding the compromise of national security without even reviewing the agreement between the Indian and Maldivian governments to station Indian soldiers.

Lawyers from the Attorney General's office defended their position by stating that the agreement has a confidentiality clause, which they used as justification for withholding the information. However, the judges pointed out they hadn't seen the agreement, questioning the existence of such a clause.

The legal journey began in 2020 when Azaan requested clarification on the quantity of Indian military personnel in the Maldives, a request the Defence Ministry and Information Commissioner's office denied, citing national security concerns.

In past hearings, the state attorneys, including those from the Attorney General's office, argued the disclosure could destabilize the nation, leading to disruptions in the supply of staple foods and potentially encouraging other countries to seek a similar military presence.

In contrast, Azaan has consistently challenged these arguments, criticizing the state's failure to substantiate their claims and questioning how the reveal of Indian "humanitarian workers" would threaten national security.

The public eagerly awaits the next hearing, where it is widely anticipated that the judges will issue an order to reveal the Indian military numbers, marking a significant victory for transparency and accountability in the Maldivian government.