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IFJ welcomes right to information action in Bangladesh

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Welcomes Right to Information Action in Bangladesh

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the approval granted to a "right to information" (RTI) law by the council of advisers to the "emergency" administration in Bangladesh.

The decision was taken on September 20, but the special RTI ordinance is yet to be signed into law by the President. The full text is to be published in the official gazette.

Preliminary reports indicate that the law covers most official government agencies and all non-government organisations that receive public funds. All these agencies and organisations will be required to nominate officials to deal with the public right to information.

Designated officials will have to comply with information requests from the public within 20 days of formally receiving them. In cases involving the right to life and liberty, requests for information would have to be met within 24 hours.

"The IFJ welcomes the special dispensation in cases involving life and death and the deprivation of personal liberty, but notes that the law provides exemptions for six specific agencies dealing with security and intelligence matters," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"These exemptions should not be allowed to dilute the salutary provisions of the law on the right to life and liberty."

The ordinance also reportedly identifies 20 instances in which requests for information can be denied, including cases of corruption and human rights violations.

The IFJ notes that several journalists' organisations and press freedom bodies, including the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and the Dhaka Union of Journalists, had in August criticised an earlier draft of the ordinance, on the grounds that it granted too many exemptions.

Although these bodies generally welcomed the advisory council's approval of the law, they pointed out several loopholes which could impair the law's efficacy.

"The IFJ calls on the Bangladesh administration to notify the new law immediately through an announcement in the official gazette," IFJ Asia-Pacific said. "There are reservations about the exemptions granted, but these could be rectified once the law becomes operative and its degree of utility to the public is assessed.

"It is essential to see the new norms on public access to information become a part of recognised and enforceable public entitlements well before the scheduled elections that will return Bangladesh to civilian democratic rule."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries.

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