International FOI Advocates Protest Draft Amendments that would Weaken Bulgarian Public Information Act

21 May 2007

Today, members the International Freedom of Information Advocates Network sent a letter to the Bulgarian National Assembly opposing draft amendments to the Bulgarian access to information law accepted by the Assembly earlier this month. Sixty-eight organizations and individuals from 37 different countries joined the letter of protest, arguing that the proposed amendments would significantly weaken the existing access to information regime in Bulgaria. The coalition states broadly that “[t]he right to access information held by public bodies is a fundamental human right, a central underpinning of democracy and core requirement of good governance and public accountability.” The letter also references provisions of the proposed amendments that run counter to¬†Council of Europe Recommendation No. R(2002)2 on Access to Official Documents, and calls on the Bulgarian Parliament to reject the amendments as contrary to European and international legal principles.

The National Assembly approved the draft amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) after first reading on May 10, 2007, on the purported basis that the changes were necessary to implement European Community Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of documents held by public sector bodies. Opponents of the amendments, including journalists and advocacy groups in Bulgaria and around the world, argue that in fact the amendments violate European principles on access by imposing significant new burdens on those who request information from the government.

In particular, the amendments would require requesters to prove they have a legal interest in the information they are requesting, significantly altering the current system that grants access for any requester, for any reason. The amendments would also extend the time for government offices to respond to requests, from 14 calendar days to 20 working days. Under the proposed amendments, public authorities would no longer be obliged to provide partial access to government records and would be able to charge “reasonable” fees, compared to the current law that says only the actual costs incurred in fulfilling a request may be charged.

According to the Access to Information Program (AIP), the leading advocacy group working to promote the right to information in Bulgaria: “The proposed amendments jeopardize the seven years of continuous efforts of the civil society, media, courts, and public administration for better implementation of APIA.” AIP and more than 1100 journalists, NGOs, politicians, and public administration representatives in Bulgaria opposed the amendments. MPs from the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), an opposition party, introduced alternative amendments to implement Directive 2003/98/EC that would require public institutions to disseminate information online and implement sanctions for non-compliance.

Documents

Letter from the Freedom of Information Advocates Network to Members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria (May 21, 2007)

European Community Directive 2003/98/EC (17 November 2003)

Council of Europe Recommendation No. R(2002)2 (21 February 2002)

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