Jordan: New amendments miss opportunity to protect right to information

Jordan: New amendments miss opportunity to protect right to information - Transparency

ARTICLE 19 expresses serious concerns about the recent amendments to the Right to Access Information Law in Jordan, which came into effect on 24 April after publication in the official gazette on 24 March 2024, the legal process that brings a law into force. We acknowledge the amendments are positive in some respects, including the mandate that public bodies must proactively publish essential information, the broadening of the scope of the law to include people of other nationalities living in Jordan, and the election of representatives from relevant stakeholders to the Information Council. However, ARTICLE 19 remains concerned over other provisions that violate international standards regarding the right to information, and note that, overall, the reform has failed to fully enable the right of individuals to exercise their right to access information held by public bodies in Jordan. We urge the Jordanian government to uphold the right to information and to fully enforce and effectively revise the new amendments.

The Right to Access Information Law of Jordan was initially enacted in 2007, and several attempts to amend it have been ongoing since 2012. However, plans to implement amendments remained under consideration until 2018. The current Jordanian government presented another proposal for amendment, which was approved by the House of Representatives in January 2024 and later by the Senate in March.

Among the 8 proposed amendments, we note that the provision mandating public bodies proactively publish essential information is a positive development. This obligation reflects the principle of maximum disclosure in line with ARTICLE 19’s Right to Information principles. Regrettably, though, Article 8 does not establish proactive publication of all information as set out in ARTICLE 19’s model law.

A new provision granting non-Jordanians the right to access information is also a positive move. However, individuals are limited in terms of to what extent they can exercise this right, and they are still required to provide a legitimate interest or a valid reason for requesting information. International standards require that everyone, regardless of nationality and residency, should have the right to request information and should not be asked to provide any reason for why they need to do so. 

The new amendments also bring changes to the composition of the the Information Council, the body responsible for overseeing the law and its implementation, specifying that three new representatives – from the Journalists Syndicate, the Bar Association, and from civil society – must now sit on the council. This positive step will ensure more transparency regarding the Information Council’s activities and the participation of relevant stakeholders. However, the council’s structure lacks independence and the council is subjected to political influence, as most members are elected by the government. It is deeply disappointing that no amendment was put forward to ensure more impartiality and independence within the oversight body in line with international standards.

Lastly, ARTICLE 19 is seriously concerned over the thirteenth amendment establishing that each department must index and organise information and documents based on professional and technical principles. While this provision aims to improve record-keeping and maintenance, it has not addressed the broad scope of exceptions and the lack of a harm and public interest test that would meet the necessity and proportionality test under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and ensure information in the public interest is disclosed notwithstanding the harm to a protected interest such as reputation, public health and morals, public order and national security. In this regard, we note that in its submission to the Universal Periodic Review, UNESCO highlighted the exceptions regime as one of the most problematic aspects of the RTI law and urged the Jordanian government to meet the necessity and proportionality requirement while also strengthening transparency and accountability.

In light of the above, it is disappointing that the Jordanian government has missed a crucial opportunity to implement  reform to address the most problematic aspects of the RTI Law and to bring it closer to meeting international obligations on the right to information. It is even more disappointing considering the fact that Jordan  led the RTI movement in the MENA region when it enacted the first RTI law in 2007. ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to resume its reform of the RTI law in close consultation with civil society actors and RTI experts. We stand ready to further elaborate on our comments and to assist the government in drafting future amendments to fully uphold the right to information in Jordan in line with international standards.