Honduran Congress Oks Strict Secrecy Law

17 January 2014

The Honduran Congress Jan. 13 approved broad government secrecy legislation that civil society groups have denounced.

A key provision of the law, states:

Any information, documentation or material relating to the internal strategic framework of state agencies and whose revelation, if made publicly available, could produce undesirable institutional effects on the effective development of state policies or the normal functioning of public sector entities, is restricted. The power to impose this classification lies with the representative of each state entity.

Valid for five years, a “restricted” classification can be imposed unilaterally by both centralized and decentralized government entities, according to a description by the group Reporters Without Borders.

“They also have the power to classify information as `confidential’ for ten years in cases of `imminent risk or direct threat to public security and order,’ ” the group said. “A third `secret’ classification for 15 years can be imposed by the National Defence and Security Council in such cases as possible threats to `constitutional order.’ “

Also the Honduran president could classify information as “ultrasecret” for 25 years in cases of “direct threat to territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The bill was submitted by Rodolfo Zelaya, a representative of conservative right National Party, and passed with the support of 71 of 128 deputies.

Government intelligence chief Julian Pacheco was quoted as saying that the law was necessary “to protect state officials who risk their lives to defend society.” He said the media has revealed the names of numerous authorities holding sensitive information on organized crime.

Information Commissioner Objects

Doris Ismelda Madrid, the President Commissioner of the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAIP), announced that she will submit a brief arguing for the law to be thrown out as unconstitutional, according to a media report (in Spanish). She argues that it goes against international treaties on human rights and access to information that are guaranteed in the Magna Carta.

The law, the “Law of Secret Information,” removes the ability of IAIP to determine the classification status of information and transfers those responsibilities directly to the government officials at the agencies that produced the information.

Law Brings Protests

The leaders of 15 nongovernmental organizations criticized the law as “representing a setback in the fight against corruption… and interrupting a process to be a more open and transparent state.”

“We will go to the national authorities to declare the law as a violation of our rights,” said Omar Rivera, executive director of the Civil Society Group, one of the organizations in the alliance “And if we fail,” he pledged, “we will raise our complaint with international bodies.”

He said the law aims to “supplant” the 2006 Institute for Access to Public Information.”

Reporters Without Borders said, “The imprecise, discretionary and hastily-approved Law on Secret Information that the Honduran parliament adopted on 13 January constitutes a major new blow to freedom of information in one of the western hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for news and information providers.”

“Reporters Without Borders hopes that this law, which turns state-held information into a private reserve, will be overturned on the grounds of unconstitutionality.”

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