Civil society stands in opposition to government-proposed amendments to public access to information

On 9 February 2006, the Justice Initiative Program of the Open Society Institute addressed a letter to Mrs. Jozefina Topalli, speaker of the Albanian Parliament. The letter was signed by the Program’s Executive Director, Mr. James Goldston and the Executive Director of the Albanian Center for the Development and Democratization of Institutions, Mr. Ilir Aliaj. The letter appealed to Mrs. Topalli to stall the approval of a government-proposed amendment impinging on citizens’ right to freedom of information.

The Albanian law on public access to information which was approved by the Albanian Parliament in 1999 has not as yet been fully implemented. It is likely that the said amendment has not been prompted by the need to improve the practice so far, but by the government’s commitment to comply with NATO requirements. The existing law classifies the information into “top secret”, “secret” and “confidential”.

The Government-proposed amendment adds one more category of “restricted information” to ensure “the effectiveness of government institutions” to the three already existing categories. The new draft does not name the authorities with the power to “restrict” information, nor does it define restriction criteria, duration of restriction, classification and declassification rules, etc.

This broad and unbalanced amendment may threaten freedom of information and may be “used as a pretext to refuse any request for information”; the letter addressed to Mrs. Topalli points out.

The reaction of the Albanian civil society was immediate. The Albanian Coalition Against Corruption jointly with the Network of Open Society for Albania (NOSA) held a debate of experts on the argument; the Center for Parliamentary Studies and the Albanian Helsinki Committee sent petitions of protest to the Parliamentary Commissions; the movement Mjaft, IREX and other civil society organizations were involved in debates with the law and legal parliamentary commission.

As a result of the pressure borne by civil society organizations, the amendment may be withdrawn by the government and reviewed prior to its being submitted to the Parliamentary Plenary.

Civil society stands in opposition to government-proposed amendments to public access to information

Interview with Mr. Capajev Gjokutaj, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation for Albania