Legal Encounter Participants Advocate for Information Access in Palestine

The Birzeit University Institute of Law (IoL) - Gaza Branch organized a legal encounter on “Rights and Freedoms: Access to Information in the Palestinian Territories” on March 5, 2013. The presentation was given by Baker Turkmani, legal advisor to the Gaza-based Office of the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability (AMAN).
Coordinator of the IoL Gaza Office Lina Al-Tounisi first welcomed the audience, expressing hope that the legal encounter would contribute to promoting rights and freedoms in Palestine, most notably the right to access information.Mr. Turkmani defined the right to access information as “a citizen’s right to request and receive answers about any piece of information in a printed, written or other form from any institution.” Restrictions are often imposed on the right to access information in order to safeguard national security or the dignity of individuals. International conventions and domestic regulations that govern the right to access information include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Palestinian Basic Law, Law on Printed Materials and Publication, the Election Law, etc.
Stressing the importance of the right to access judicial information, Turkmani provided an overview of relevant laws and restrictions, the roles of judicial bodies, and public oversight over the judiciary. To delineate the relationship between the right to access information and freedom of expression, he explained that social media, including Facebook, poses three challenges: the volume of information, the information released and the type of information represented. Although it is included in the freedom of expression, not all that is published on social media outlets is necessarily correct. In this vein, what controls ensure the legal protection of the right to access information? Indicators used to gauge the freedom of information include operative legislation, public freedom to access information, having multiple sources of information, availability of mechanisms and directives to regulate access to information, and press freedom.
In the Palestinian context, Turkmani stated that the executive monopolizes information management and evaluation. He suggested that the operations of the Palestinian Information Center should be streamlined. In the ensuing discussion, participants proposed that sessions of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the cabinet should be made public. In order distinguish between public and private information, no one should be entitled to access personal information except by permission from the public prosecutor’s office. It was proposed that besides promoting accountability, hearings be organized and a campaign launched to raise public awareness about the right to access information.The legal encounter brought together interested individuals and representatives of several organizations. it was organized in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.