Tunisia: Government must not shelve Access to Information Bill

Tunisia: Government must not shelve Access to Information Bill - Transparency

Discarded documents and court papers in the building that housed the Court of First Instance, burned down in the aftermath of the October 2011 elections and now being renovated.

ARTICLE 19 and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network express their deep concern following the sudden decision of the government to withdraw the draft fundamental law on the right to access information without any apparent reason just prior to its final adoption.

We call on the Tunisian government to rescind its decision and urge the expedited adoption of the law.

On 3 July, nearly a year after its presentation to the Parliament, the Tunisian Government abruptly announced they were withdrawing the Draft Fundamental Law on the Right of Access to Information without explanation.The draft had already passed through all the formal stages of consultationin the committees of the National Constituent Assembly and the People’s Representatives’ Assembly and a final report had been produced in preparation for its presentationto the plenary of the People’s Representatives’ Assembly for its final approval.

ARTICLE 19 and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network are surprised at the sudden withdrawal of the law just when it was ready for adoption without any explanation for the decision.

“The Tunisian authorities must complete their efforts to ensure the right to information, which is guaranteed by the new Tunisian Constitution, by adopting the draft law and ensuring its proper implementation,” said Rami Salhi, Director of Maghreb Office of Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network.

The withdrawal of the draft law sets a concerning precedent, as the first since the formation of the new parliament, refraining to legislate the new constitutional right to access of information, a major achievement of the revolution. “The withdrawal of the access to information bill is a step in the wrong direction” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmesat ARTICLE 19.

“Legitimate responses to terror attacks should not undermine efforts to improve government transparency. Governments are more secure when they are accountable,” David Diaz-Jogeix said.

The government has ignored requests from civil society for the government to withdraw other draft laws which threaten freedom of expression in Tunisia, such as the draft law on “repressing the offenses against armed forces,” which criminalizes any criticism of the armed forces.

ARTICLE 19 and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network call on the Tunisian Government to move forward with this important draft law. The proposal is crucial for the Tunisian Parliament to fulfil their responsibility to protect access to information, as outlined in Article 32 of the Constitution and international law, especially considering the great efforts already taken in developing it.

The revised version of the draft law is notably more progressive than the provisions in Decree 41/2011 in terms of compliance with international principles on access to information. It is also a key promise inTunisia’s commitments under the Open Government Partnership.