Yemen FOI Bill Finalized With Six Presidential Amendments

20 June 2012

Yemen on June 20 finalized its freedom of information law with some last-minute alterations, according to sources familiar with the development.

Final approval was cemented by Parliament’s acceptance of changes to the law recommended by the president.

The six amendments offered by Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi were considered acceptable by the bill’s supporters, according to several persons familiar with the situation. One change would prohibit use of the laws by foreigners.

An unofficial English translation has been prepared by the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP).

The new law, before being amended, was given a high rating on the Right to Information Index system for scoring the strength of FOI laws. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The Centre for Law and Democracy analysis gives it 102 out of a possible 150 points, putting it in 21st place globally.

“The law’s strongest features include its broad scope and applicability and its strong promotional regime. At the same time, the law has important weaknesses, including the lack of proper recognition of the human right to information and the absence of a public interest override,” according to the CLD analysis.

The law includes the possibility of prison terms for public officials who knowingly withhold information that should be released. An information commissioner will be created under the law.

The law was passed by Parliament in late April. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Work on the law was begun in 2008, but the effort stalled several years later, until being revived in the wake of Arab Spring.

Madeleine Schachter of Baker & McKenzie, who represented pro bono the International Research & Exchanges Board in consultation with the International Senior Lawyers Project, described the “extraordinary collaboration” that led to the bill’s passage. She noted that the spark for the bill came from a group of Yemeni Parliamentarians, YPAC – Yemeni Parliamentarians Against Corruption –”whose commitment to the issues led to the result.”

“Journalists are quite pleased; Parliament is pleased; and the president is pleased,” she said at a forum in Washington sponsored by the Center for Media Assistance. She said described the bill as “overall pretty good.”

The presidential changes will:

–          Narrow what the president said was an ambiguously broad definition of information.

–         Replace the definition of personal data to state: “The personal data: It is information about an individual relating to a particular strain of this individual and his social status that is not allowed to be disclosed without his explicit consent, or one of his relatives who shall be one of his first to third direct class in case of death.”

–         Revise the description of the executive’s authority to issue regulations to implement the bill.

–         Drop a provision allowing foreigners to make requests under the law.

–         Change the article of punishment for government officials to protect those who provide information about crimes to authorities. The president’s message says in part: “The article (13) of the bill states that: “No punishment shall be inflicted on any employee who gives information about the irregularities or violations that breaches this law or assist in the investigation of irregularities or violations of this law. The employee may not also be punished in his occupation through legal proceedings or otherwise. “However, this text is not based on true law and to that the matter requires in this case to be amended as follows: “No criminal punishment shall be sanctioned on any employee who provides information to competent investigation authority about irregularities or violations of this law or helps in any investigation into these irregularities and violations. This employee also may not be held accountable for disciplinary reasons by the administrative body he follows.” The support for this amendment and the reason is that the employee may see by virtue of his work some things and facts which are characterized by secrecy, including those related to activity of the facility where he works or facilities and state agencies that deal with his agency.”

–         Reformulate an article to allow punished employees to seek redress and compensation for the damage.

For more background about media law reform in Yemen see a chapter by David Cook in a new book, “Exporting the Matrix,” edited by Richard N. Winfield for the International Senior Lawyers Project. For more see http://www.islp.org.

 

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