As an Iranian citizen you now have the right to make an access to information request to the government and other bodies providing public services. This can be a complicated process so we have compiled a brief how-to-guide to help you.
In February 2018 ARTICLE 19 will release an official guide to making general requests, however in light of the recent protests and the calls for transparency, we have compiled the following information to support you in making your first information requests. For further information please contact [email protected]
A summary of the access to information law
You can read our full analysis of the law but some of the immediate parts of the law can be summarised below:
- The right of access to information is available to any Iranian citizen or legal entity.
- The law applies to any kind of information, including written documents, audio tapes, visual images, films and recordings, signs, maps, and data in physical or electronic form, as long as its recorded can be requested.
- All governmental organizations are required to publish this information immediately.
- The act prohibits public institutions from asking requesters to provide a reason or explanation for their request.
- All public and private organizations are obliged to respond to requests for information in no more than 10 days.
- Public bodies are obliged to facilitate proactive publishing of information.
- There are sanctions against those that act against the law with fines ranging between 300,000 rials ($9USD) to 100,000,000 rials ($3000USD).
- However publication of information on organs under the supervision of the Supreme Leader (such as the Revolutionary Guard, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Supreme Council of Cyberspace) require the permission of the Supreme Leader.
Why you should make information requests
You can see the full outline of the law in our legal summary where we summarise its shortcomings and opportunities. We will also release user guides to support Iranian citizens requesting information in February 2018.
The gateway established for access to information requests has been in place since the second half of 2017. Currently, over 131 organisations have joined with over 1,133 requests made so far of which 974 have been responded to. Responses to these have been unclear (although the gateway indicates that the released information will be made public on the gateway). This gateway gives citizens – activists, journalists and concerned individuals alike – the opportunity to make requests for information about these institutions.
While there is understandable doubt about the effectiveness of this law in obtaining information, it must be utilised. ARTICLE 19’s own research in February 2017 indicated that even prior to these protests there was considerable interest in the law: out of 1000 people surveyed across the country, 33.3% knew about its existence, 32% knew about their rights as a citizen to access information about governmental agencies and 13.7% had even made requests already. This engagement will be vital in turning the government’s apparent interests in transparency into action. Even demonstrating a lack of response to information requests is a good way of holding governments accountable to their national and international responsibilities for transparency.
But how do you make a request?
There are multiple ways to file an information request. These are:
- Submitting a form online via the institution’s electronic gateway (website);
- Using the Governmental e-service;
- Sending by mail; or
- Applying in person to the Information Unit of the institution.
Please note, you are required to provide information about yourself in the request including name, national ID number or national registration number (for legal entities), address, and at least one form of contact. For the Government e-service, you must register using your national code number.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology operates an online gateway for making and receiving requests.
You can follow the instructions on the gateway, or see the above government graphic for details (in Farsi).
Who can ask for information?
The right of access to information is available to any Iranian citizen or legal entity.
What information can you ask for?
You can ask for any kind of information, including written documents, audio tapes, visual images, films and recordings, signs, maps, and data in physical or electronic form, as long as its recorded.
Do you need to have a reason to obtain information?
No. The law does not require that you must show a reason to make a request. In fact, Article 7 of the Act prohibits public institutions from asking you to “provide a reason or explanation for his/her request.”
Institutions covered under the Act
The Act applies to all public bodies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches and their affiliated bodies and subsidiaries as well as provincial governments and municipalities. It also applies to private bodies, including non-governmental organisations and private companies providing public services. However, it does not apply to bodies that are under the control of the Supreme Leader without his permission. Each public and private institution must create a “Unit for Providing Information” to respond to requests and must appoint a person in charge of the unit.
For most requests there are no fees involved but for some requests you may be asked to pay a fee. The structure of the fees are not yet clear.
You should receive a response to your request within 10 days. Public and private institutions are required to respond to requests within 10 business days.
Can information be withheld?
Yes, the law includes a broad spectrum of exemptions that you should be familiar with and try to navigate when making requests. There are eight exemptions in the law. Information can be withheld if it relates to:
- State secrets
- Protecting personal privacy
- Commercial Information
- Security and public welfare.
- Efforts to prevent or discover crimes, arrest or pursuit of criminals
- Tax audit or legal tolls or their collection.
- Overseeing immigration to the country.
In addition, a request can be denied if it would release “information that could cause defamation and disgrace, or are against public decency and/or promoting vice.” The purpose or meaning of this exemption needs much clarification, with bylaws clarifying its enforcement. However, importantly, especially for environmental activists, the exemptions do not apply if they reveal the existence or emergence of environmental hazards and threatening public health.
Requests can also be denied when:
- The request is considered by an institution to be incomplete or insufficient information is provided. A requestor can submit a follow-up request providing the missing information.
- The request is form documents or information that have been openly published and is accessible through the institution’s website.
If a request for information is denied, the institution must communicate to the requestor the legal reasons for denial.
If you believe that your request has been denied unlawfully, you can appeal to the Commission for Publication and Free Access to Information in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Complaints can be filed through the government E-service or directly with the Commission.
Secretariat Telephone: 88714843
Email: [email protected]
Appeals of denials can also be made to a court. According to the Iranian Constitution, everyone who has a complaint against a Government institution, including the Information Commission, can take this complaint to the High Administrative Tribunal. The complaint can be submitted in person or online and through the Judiciary platform.