Afghanistan Considering Draft Law on Access to Information

11 April 2013

A draft access to information law has been prepared in Afghanistan and comments received, but it remains unclear whether government’s proposal will be adopted.   

The government came under pressure in September from civil society and media groups to prepare an access law. Civil society also demanded a fixed timeframe to pass the law and ensure its implementation and enforcement.  

At the time, Yama Torabi, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan said, “Access to information increases citizens’ engagement in establishing good governance and promotes their participation in public matters.”

Sediqullah Tawhidi, Director of Independent Media Watch said, “Without access to information, talking about open media is meaningless.”

A March 24 editorial in Outlook Afghanistan said: “For a new-born democracy like Afghanistan to flourish, the Government should make sure to bring a freedom of information act and debate about it in the parliament. Though we have relative media freedom compared to our Central Asian neighbors, or even Pakistan in several aspects, absence of legislation on access to information is a hurdle for the booming Afghan media. Rise of media outlets is one of the significant accomplishments credited to administration of President Karzai.”

The editorial noted:

It’s not that the question about an access to information act has never been raised or talked about, but the fact is that certain ruling quarters have tried to keep legislation from coming into the parliament.

Improvements Needed, CLD Says

Comments by the Centre for Law and Democracy, a Canadian-based group that consults internationally on access to information call the draft a positive step but say the draft needs improvements.

 CLD said:

  • The law should apply to all information held by public authorities, not just information which is needed to protect a right or improve a public service.
  • The scope of information subject to proactive disclosure should be expanded to cover more information about finances and implementation of the law.
  • The procedural rules should be substantially revised to make it easier to make requests and to streamline processing of those requests.
  • The access to information law should prevail in case of conflict with secrecy laws, and the regime of exceptions should be narrowed by subjecting all exceptions to a requirement of harm and by adding a public interest override.
  • The independence of the oversight commission should be strengthened and its powers enhanced.
  • Sanctions for the wrongful disclosure of information should be replaced by protection for those who disclose information in good faith.
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