Male, Maldives – In a pivotal verdict by the Maldives High Court, the presidential decree from 2022, issued by President Solih to ban the "India Out" movement, has been declared as bearing no legal weight. The landmark decision came in response to a constitutional case submitted by founders of the Maldives Journal, Ahmed Azaan, Shifzan Ahmed, and Ahmed Ibrahim.
The founders of the prominent Maldivian news outlet had appealed to the court to nullify the presidential decree, asserting that it infringed upon the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The court's judgement stated that the decree is neither a law nor a regulation fortified by a law. As a result, the court declared that it lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the decree's legitimacy. Although the court refrained from commenting on the validity of the decree, the conclusion inherently suggests the decree lacks any enforceable legal weight.
In addition to the decree, the appellants also sought the court's intervention on an act introduced in 1968, which prohibited free speech if it was perceived as a threat to national security. The High Court ruled in favor of the appellants once more, asserting that the act was unconstitutional and subsequently abolished it. This specific act had previously been invoked by the Attorney General of the Maldives, Ibrahim Riffath, as a basis for charging those who voiced opposition against the Indian military presence.
The "India Out" movement has grown significantly over recent years, reflecting the increasing discontent among many Maldivians towards the rising Indian military presence in the island nation. Despite the evident public concern, the Maldivian government has consistently opposed the movement, resulting in the frequent arrests of its supporters and vocal advocates.
This court decision represents a significant turn of events, emphasizing the core democratic values of the nation and reinforcing the right to freedom of speech. With the decree and the 1968 act no longer being legally enforceable, it remains to be seen how the Maldivian government and President Solih will respond to the resurgent "India Out" movement and the challenges it presents.