3 January 2013

Egypt: Freedom of Access to Public Information

Photo: Al Jazeera
Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first elected President.

press release

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) expresses worry for having many draft laws intended to be passed by the Egyptian government through Shura Council, following the constitution was passed, such as the draft laws of demonstration, election systems and the law of access to public information that was submitted by the Ministry of Justice to Shura Council yesterday.

The law of access to public information includes 58 articles generally ban access to official documents before 15 years after the date of signature if marked "secret" and 30 years if marked "very secret". The draft law also bans access to information that affects negatively competitiveness or related to the internal affairs of corporate employees, local orders, discussions or preliminary proposals.

The draft law that aims at restriction of the freedom of expression and access to public information was sent by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to Shura Council directly without having any societal discussions on it or even taking the feedback of the Syndicate of Journalists on it.

The draft law does not comply with the international standards of human rights related to freedom of expression and free access to public information. this law is contrary altogether with international covenants on human rights, which guarantee freedom of opinion and expression and the right to information, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights issued in 1966, which was ratified by the Egyptian government in 1981, as well as the principles of ARTICLE (19) ensuring the right of citizens to information, and the most important of these materials include:

- The first principle: all the official information should be available to the public.

- The second principle mentions the public authority's commitment to spreading information on the way of operation of public bodies and departments, and publishes content of any decision or policy that might affect the citizens.

- The third principle states that the legislation governing freedom of access to information should include effective measures guarantee that the public will be aware of right to access to information and to promote a culture of openness and disclosure within the government.

- Principle nine, which was entitled "Protection of casting information" states that legislation should include free access to information provisions to protect individuals from legal or administrative sanctions or other penalties related to providing functional information or data on crimes.

Mr. Hafez Abu Seada, the head of EOHR, stated that the state employee that prevents citizens from finding information on topics of interest to the public should be taken to accountability. Journalists must not be punished when they discuss issues related to the public affairs and governmental performance.

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