On The Sixth Celebration of The Right-to-Know Day The responsibility of the Egyptian government in protecting the citizen’s right to access the information is still absent
While the freedom of expression and opinion `s advocates celebrated the International Right to Know Day, proposed to be on 28 September every year, the Egyptian citizens and public suffer from government practices represented in lying, deception, pretence and concealing information
from the public. This helped in the spread of corruption, especially during the absence of the government’s accountability. This was accompanied by the existence of an oppressive legislative and anti-human rights structure in general. This structure builds a block before the public to prevent it from access to information, thoughts and opinions
Though, the world is witnessing a progress in the field of protecting and promoting the public’s right to access information; 87 states issued a law to guarantee this right- the latest of which was Bangladesh that adopted a law on 20th September, still the Arab world is away from this development. No laws were issued in any of the Arab countries concerning the public’s right to access information except for one country which is Jordan.
And today the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) demands the Egyptian government to fulfill its obligations in accordance with article no.2, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which stresses the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms recognized therein including everyone’s right to freedom of expression. Moreover, “this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.”
Furthermore, AFTE demands the Egyptian government to speed up the issuing of a law ensuring the public’s to access to information. It also assures that the Egyptian society will not witness a social, political, or economic development unless a law to protect and guarantee citizens` right to access information in accordance with the international human rights standards along with the principles emphasized by the UN special Rapporteur responsible for the freedom of opinion and expression in his report in 2000 presented to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which are:
Þ Public bodies have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information; “information” includes all records held by a public body, regardless of the form in which it is stored.
Þ Freedom of information implies that public bodies publish and disseminate widely do*****ents of significant public interest, for example, operational information about how the public body functions and the content of any decision or policy affecting the public.
Þ As a minimum, the law on freedom of information should make provision for public education and the dissemination of information regarding the right to have access to information; the law should also provide for a number of mechanisms to address the problem of a culture of secrecy within Government.
Þ A refusal to disclose information may not be based on the aim to protect Governments from embarrassment or the exposure of wrongdoing; a complete list of the legitimate aims which may justify non-disclosure should be provided in the law and exceptions should be narrowly drawn so as to avoid including material which does not harm the legitimate interest.
Þ All public bodies should be required to establish open, accessible internal systems for ensuring the public’s right to receive information; the law should provide for strict time limits for the processing of requests for information and require that any refusals be accompanied by substantive written reasons for the refusal.
Þ The cost of gaining access to information held by public bodies should not be so high as to deter potential applicants and negate the intent of the law itself.
Þ The law should establish a presumption that all meetings of governing bodies are open to the public
Þ The law should require that other legislation be interpreted, as far as possible, in a manner consistent with its provisions; the regime for exceptions provided for in the freedom of information law should be comprehensive and other laws should not be permitted to extend it.
Þ Individuals should be protected from any legal, administrative or employment-related sanctions for releasing information on wrongdoing, viz. the commission of a criminal offence or dishonesty, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, corruption or dishonesty or serious failures in the administration of a public body.
Finally, AFTE assures that the lack of a system to access information legally, allows the State, in this atmosphere, to strategically control the flaw of official information through which it can select the information it wants to publish as well as to whom it should be published.