Laws on Access to Public Information finally passed
An attempt by Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Adam Martynyuk (Communist Party) to prevent the vote, as on 22 December, failed on Thursday, and the Verkhovna Rada voted by an overwhelming majority to pass the two draft bills, No. 7321 (amendments to some laws regarding access to public information) and No. 2763 – On Access to Public Information.
As reported here, the struggle to get a bill on access to public information has been difficult. On 21 October, despite assurances to Ukrainian citizens and the Council of Europe, , the draft law tabled by Andriy Shevchenko and effectively drawn up by civic organizations, failed to gain enough votes largely because only one Deputy from the Party of the Regions supported it (and none from the Communist Party).
After a “Party of the Regions” version was tabled by Olena Bondarenko and Volodymyr Landyk. Intensive negotiations began in order to prevent the law being finally stalled. The two bills passed on 13 January are the result of those negotiations.
The Law on Access to Public Information allows information to be classified as secret only in keeping with all the following requirements:
1) solely in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public order, with the purpose of preventing disturbances or crimes, protecting the health of the population, the reputation or rights of other persons, preventing the publication of information received confidentially, or supporting the authority and impartiality of justice (this is, in fact, Article 34 of the Constitution – translator);
2) the divulgence of the information could seriously impede these interests;
3) the damage from the publication of such information outweighs the public interest in receiving it. Access to information cannot be restricted about the use of public funding, the possession, use or disposal of State or municipal property; the full names of the people or legal entities that received the money or property. Income declarations may not be classified as restricted information for persons and their relatives who:
– are standing for electoral office in state bodies;
– are public officials, officials of local bodies of local self-government of the first or second category;
The law also stipulates that it is information which is classified, not the entire document.
Information may be demanded from any body of power, monopoly or business receiving public funding. The answer should be received within 5 days. Moreover, if the information is necessary for protecting an individual’s life or freedom, on the state of the environment, the quality of food products and domestic items, accidents, catastrophes, dangerous natural phenomena and other emergencies which have happened or could happen, subjecting the public to danger, the answer must be provided within 48 hours.
The other law on amendments to ensure access to public information prohibits bodies of power and their management from autonomously declaring information to be secret or for official purposes only, with such restrictions allowed only in accordance with the law.
It allows journalists to visit without obstruction bodies of power if no special restrictions have been imposed and prohibits all, even media owners, from interfering in the activities of journalists.
It permits journalists to publish classified information if it is of public importance.
A subject of public interest is deemed to be information which demonstrates a threat to State sovereignty, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, ensures the exercising of constitutional rights, freedoms and duties, indicates possible human rights abuse, the misleading of the public, dangerous environmental and other consequences of the actions (inaction) of individuals, legal entities, etc.
It remains to be seen whether the law will actually be enforced or remain largely declarative promises.
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