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Supreme Court rules that refusal to provide information for reasons of "national security" must be fully justified

(FLIP/IFEX) - The Colombian Supreme Court has ordered the country's National Army to fulfill a journalist's request for information and has indicated that refusals by government institutions to provide information for reasons of "national security" must be fully explained.

On 23 April 2008, the journalist submitted an access to information request asking for details about the circumstances of the deaths of ten people whom the army considered to be members of an illegal armed group. In his 29 April response to the journalist, Major General Gustavo Matamoros Camacho refused to provide the requested information basing the decision on "matters related to military structure and national defense and security." He went on to say that the information requested could only be provided if ordered by judicial authorities with the appropriate jurisdiction.

Within the framework of the regional "Journalism for Access to Information" project, and in consultation with FLIP, the journalist filed a "legal protection" action. A civil chamber of the Supreme Court, by way of a 21 August ruling, annulled a previous lower court decision, withdrawing the constitutional protection that had previously been provided and ordering the army to provide the requested information to the journalist. According to the ruling by Judge Pedro Octavio Munar Cadena, the fundamental right of journalists to access information had been violated since the army failed to give any indication of how national security would be compromised were it to provide the information in question.

In addition, the judge stated his belief that events that took place in the past could not affect national security and noted in the ruling that "high level military personnel themselves have been responsible for giving out information to media outlets and the general public about army operations carried out against illegal armed groups."

With its ruling, the Supreme Court is following international standards with respect to access to information. On 2 September, the army responded to the journalist's request for information, in compliance with the ruling.

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