Tunisian Parliament Works on Access to Information

20 May 2015

A Tunisian parliamentary committee May 18 continued consideration of a bill on access to information that has been criticized by some media organizations.

“The draft is good in general,” one transparency activist told FreedomInfo.org, “except some weaknesses especially regarding the regime of exceptions, sanctions and proactive disclosure.”

The Commission of the Rights, Freedoms and External Relations on May 18 discussed the bill on access to information. Nawfel Jammali, vice president, said the committee is working to find a “balance” between the right of access to information and the preservation of state secrets, security and defense secrets, according to a media report. See report on May 15 meeting is here.

A critique by Reporters Without Borders (in French) welcomed the access provision in the bill (No. 55/2014) despite some misgivings about the breadth of the exemption relating to national security. It also questioned the sanctions regime and structure and conditions of eligibility of members of the Access to Information Commission.

“The Decree-Law No. 2011-41 of 26 May 2011 provided access to administrative documents of the bodies. The new bill extends this right by ensuring access to information held by public authorities for all citizens, ” said RSF. Article 19 also has commented on the bill. Comments in November suggested improvements.

Tunisian media groups last week voiced pressing deep concern about other elements of the bill. The Tunisian Association of Parliamentary Journalists (ATJP) and the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) held a press conference at which Oueslati Youssef, a member of the executive board SNJT, said that the bill in its current version is “a project that protects corrupt as it prohibits the disclosure of data that may incriminate pretext officials to preserve personal data,” according to a translated media report.

Amina Zayani, Secretary General of the Tunisian Association of parliamentary journalists, called the bill “catastrophic.”

Separately, Article 19 and 12 other INGO’s, is relating to another draft law recently adopted by the government and sent to Parliament on “the Repression of Offences against Armed Forces” that they said threatens freedom of expression and the right to information. The proposal would criminalize “insulting the armed forces in the goal of harming public safety” and disclosure of publish a “national security secret” defined as “any information, data and documents related to the national security […] and which should only be known to whomever has the authority to use, possess, conserve or circulate such secrets.”

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