New freedom of information law in the Ukraine

By EDRi · May 19, 2004

On 11 May 2004 the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted the new wording of a draft law amending several legislative acts concerning the protection of state secrets. This draft law was initially approved in July 2003, but was subsequently vetoed by the President due to several technical inaccuracies (incorrect numeration of articles, repeating several similar provisions, etc.).

The right of printed media journalists to freely receive, use, disseminate and store information will be limited to information which has ‘open access mode’ (amendments to Article 2(1) and Article 26(2) of the Law ‘On Printed Mass Media’). This ‘mode’ is not defined in any law. This seems to be a violation of Article 34 of the Ukrainian Constitution, that does not limit freedom of information to any kinds or modes of information.

The law introduces the term ‘confidential information owned by state’. This includes all information which is owned by state and used by state bodies, bodies of local self government and organisations and companies with mixed ownership. Access to these data is restricted. The authority to establish rules for storing and using documents containing confidential information owned by the state is given to the government (amendments to Article 30 of the Law ‘On Information’).

After the law had been adopted in July 2003, it was strongly opposed by EU representatives, OSCE, IFJ, domestic NGOs, and the Parliamentary Committee on freedom of speech and information. In an open address, a number of NGO representatives and politicians appealed to the President not to promulgate the law as far as its provisions contradict the Constitution of Ukraine and global freedom of information standards.

The new law was adopted with only minor changes compared to the previous version (mentioned inaccuracies are corrected, and ‘confidential information owned by the state’ is defined). All suggestions put forward by the President to the previously vetoed law are included. After the president of the Ukraine signs, the law will become effective from the day of law’s official publication.

In spite of criticism of not including a general ‘public interest’ evaluation, Andriy Payzuk from Privacy Ukraine thinks the statute could improve the freedom of information in the Ukraine. Bringing the state-owned confidential information into a legal classification framework and establishing accessibility rules, “will probably reduce the practice of voluntarily over-classification by public officials.”

Furthermore, Payzuk notes that “According to the Statute it is not allowed to classify as confidential environmental information, information on disasters, statistical data, information on violations of human rights, on breaches of law as well as information that should be publicly accessible according to domestic and international laws.”

On 15 June 2004, Privacy Ukraine and Internews-Ukraine are jointly organising a conference in Kyiv on the topic of Freedom of Information.

Conference on the Freedom of Information (in Ukrainian and Russian)

(Thanks to Olesya Arkhypska, Information Programs Director of the International Renaissance Foundation, Kyiv)