The General Law on Transparency has finally been approved in Mexico, and this progressive law is undoubtedly at the forefront of similar legislation around the world. However, this does not, in itself, guarantee that the right of access to information will be effectively implemented in the country as there have been numerous attempts by local governments to limit the flow of information.
For the past two years, ARTICLE 19 has been emphatically highlighting the proliferation of local regulations that has taken place with the aim of inhibiting the effective exercise of freedom of expression and the right to information. Last week, the Supreme Court of Justice granted journalists and human rights defenders legal protection from the so-called “Anti-Surveillance Law” (Ley Anti-halconeo) in Chiapas, a law that seeks to suppress and criminalise the search for and dissemination of information on the activities of the security forces.
Such regulations are aimed at preventing the supervision and monitoring of public officials at all three levels of government and yet, with the country currently suffering a serious human rights crisis, such public scrutiny of the security forces is of fundamental importance. Laws such as these are examples of governments attempting to close the space for civic participation with regard to social control.
The Supreme Court reiterated the dual dimension of the right to freedom of expression and access to information, emphasising that these rights not only protect the freedoms necessary for the personal autonomy of individuals but are also intended to protect and guarantee a public space for political dialogue.
The right of access to information is a necessary democratic tool and must be guaranteed by governments in all legislation. No government can call itself open if it prevents the public from being involved in ensuring effective accountability.
Apart from Chiapas, states such as Nuevo León, Coahuila, Durango, Quintana Roo Jalisco, Nayarit, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Zacatecas still uphold this crime in their penal codes and its application has lent itself to abusive and arbitrary use aimed at restricting the free flow of public-interest information.
One such example is that of 10th October last year, when Julio César Dávila, a journalist with the “Mi Nación” newspaper, was arrested and accused of “surveillance” in Monterrey while photographing a double-parked truck belonging to the security escorts of Nuevo León’s Attorney General, Adrián Emilio de la Garza. Although released a few hours later, the application of such crimes is clearly being used in an attempt to prevent the flow of information.
Article 5 of the recently-approved General Law on Transparency stipulates that no-one should be subjected to legal or administrative questioning for exercising the right of access to information, and that this right may not be restricted either by direct or indirect means. It furthermore states that all legal provisions contrary to this law must be repealed.
In a year when Mexico is holding the Chair of the Alliance for Open Government, it is essential that State policy seeks to open up public spaces for free and informed civic participation in the co-creation of policies that will improve their quality of life. The Alliance’s aim of implementing sub-national exercises clearly requires the prior condition of government openness at all levels.