Marking the International Day for Universal Access to Information, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) highlights the critical need for a Freedom of Information Law to guarantee society's right to accurate information.
This statement was originally published on afteegypt.org on 28 September 2021.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) calls on the House of Representatives and Senate to start preparing a law that guarantees and regulates the right to the truth and freedom of information on the occasion of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information. Discussion of the Freedom of Information Law, stipulated in the Egyptian Constitution since 2014, has stalled despite the Parliament elections in 2015. For nearly six years, the public interest has been damaged, and the investment climate has been negatively affected due to the absence of a Freedom of Information Law. AFTE calls on the Egyptian government to create the appropriate conditions for the issuance of the Freedom of Information Act and put an end to the policy of blocking press websites, which affected dozens of independents websites and increased the crisis of the lack of information recently.
The celebration of the international day for the right to the truth began in 2003, to mark the founding of the Global Network of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in Bulgaria in 2002, which brought together dozens of representatives of NGOs working in the field of defending freedom of information at the national and international levels.
AFTE stresses the importance of having the political will to consolidate the right to the truth, along with a mechanism that ensures a societal dialogue on the draft of the Freedom of Information Law, in a way that guarantees the representation of all groups – specifically those whose work is related to the right to the truth, such as journalists, academics and economic researchers and workers in civil society organizations – to ensure the effectiveness of the law and meet the needs of society.
We believe that society needs to pass a law that guarantees access and circulation of accurate and documented information. This has never been stronger, especially in light of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has proven that the best way out of the crisis is linked to freedom of information and circulation – and ensuring access to all segments of society and in appropriate formats for all, given the impact of information disclosure on the priorities of individual and community choices and the importance of allocating available medical resources. At the beginning of the epidemic crisis, the World Health Organization emphasized the extent to which the right to health is linked to information and its circulation.
Since 2011, the legislative environment in Egypt has lacked a law regulating the freedom of information, including freedom of access, receipt, and circulation of information, as stipulated in the Constitution in its article (68), and article (19) in the International Law. Since then, several attempts have been made to prepare a draft for a Freedom of Information law, the most recent of which was the draft that the Supreme Media Council completed in 2017 and sent to the Parliament and the Prime Minister. However, this draft remained buried in the drawers of the Egyptian government.
AFTE asserts its support for including the National Human Rights Strategy by issuing a Freedom of Information Law. The association is committed to working with all parties, to involve civil society and various groups in discussing the Freedom of Information Law draft.
The right to the truth and freedom of information are fundamental rights, which guarantee a package of other human rights and freedoms. As well, these play a central role in terms of government transparency and accountability, as it is difficult for citizens to influence political, social, and cultural life, the decision-making process, and the follow-up of government commitments to the state’s general budget allocations, without the availability of an appropriate amount of information that ensures transparency and accountability.