All Talk, No Action: Iraqi Kurdistan’s New Freedom of Information Law Toothless
Iraqi Kurdistan has a new freedom of information law. Despite being lauded by all local political parties, the law is almost a year old and has barely been used. At a recent meeting, journalists blamed politicians for wording the law in an imprecise way while MPs said the journalists were at fault.
It has been almost a year since authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan passed a law guaranteeing the right to access to information in the semi-autonomous region. However as a recent symposium on the law indicated, there are still plenty of hurdles that information-seekers must overcome before they can use it – and that is, if they use it at all.
Journalists present at the symposium, held last Thursday in the region’s capital, Erbil, were also quick to question attending politicians about the imprecise language used to outline exemptions – that is, when information cannot be accessed because it relates to military matters, negotiations, personal medical histories or other factors.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s Parliament passed the legislation in June 2013 and although almost all of the laws passed through the regional parliament – Iraqi Kurdistan is semi-independent of Baghdad and has its own legislation, military and borders – are contested by one or other political party, nobody had any objections to this particular one. It seems that all of Iraqi Kurdistan’s politicians agree on the right to information.
The law stresses the right to access to information for all locals in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as to foreigners. It says that government institutions should give information requested within ten days unless the information falls into one of the exempted categories. Should the information not be forthcoming, there are financial penalties.
At the symposium, which was organised by local media training organization, the Media Academy Iraq, and held on the premises of the German consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, local politician Asso Karim, who headed the parliamentary committee on media and culture during the previous Parliamentary session and who was one of the prime movers behind the law, said that the law was important and unique in the country; Baghdad doesn’t have such a law.