In a landmark decision, the High Court of the Maldives has overturned the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICOM) ruling on a contentious case concerning the presence of Indian military personnel on Maldivian soil. The case, which has been a subject of national security debate, was brought to the forefront by journalist Ahmed Azaan Marzooq of the Maldives Journal in 2020.
Azaan's request to the Defence Ministry to disclose the number of Indian military personnel stationed in the country was denied on the grounds of national security. The journalist escalated the matter to the ICOM, which supported the Ministry's decision. Persistent in his quest for transparency, Azaan appealed to the High Court, which has now found the ICOM's decision to be flawed.
Justice Hussein Shaheed, presiding over the case, stated that the ICOM did not properly utilize its power to independently verify the Defence Ministry’s claim that the disclosure could jeopardize Maldivian sovereignty and national security. The High Court has directed the ICOM to reassess the case, citing a lack of due process and reliance solely on the assertions of the Defence Ministry by the ICOM.
This ruling comes at a politically charged time when the presence of Indian military forces in the Maldives has become a pivotal issue. The newly elected President Dr. Muizzu, who is to be sworn in on November 17, 2023, made the removal of Indian troops from the Maldives a central promise of his campaign. With the president-elect vowing to address this as his inaugural act, the High Court's decision adds a layer of legal scrutiny to a highly sensitive topic.
The ruling signifies a potential shift in the Maldives’ approach to information dissemination and national security, balancing the right to information against the strategic considerations of hosting foreign military forces. As the nation awaits Dr. Muizzu's presidency and his subsequent actions, the ICOM has been given a fresh opportunity to re-evaluate its stance, with a ten-day window for Azaan to resubmit his case.