Parliament approves access to information law
In 2008, Member of Parliament Ali Hussein Ashaal, of the Islah party, presented the bill to both the constitutional and media committees of the parliament.
This was followed by another draft presented by the Ministry of Information, and since deliberations on both drafts have been proceeding off and on until recently.
The approved law is a combination of both drafts, making Yemen only the second Arab country after Jordan to issue such a law.
The essence of the access to information law is to allow citizens to demand information from government bodies. It includes clauses on the accountability of concerned authorities to provide information in a timely manner in order to improve transparency.
The law stipulates that every government has to dedicate a media person to answer applicants within ten days of a request. A penalty up to six months imprisonment was stipulated for any individual who prevented or stalled the providing of information requested within the ten days. Moreover, those who acquire information illegally and publish it could face imprisonment of up to two years.
It was not clear in the law to what extent access to information applies to the private sector.
The law comprising of 66 articles, includes clauses for protecting privacy, and the protection of privileged information, such as information that affects fair competition, copyright, military strategies and foreign policy.
“The law was passed because of international pressure and is not really complete,” said Basheer Al-Maqtari of the state-run National Information Center. “For example, it ignores applications for information from non-Yemenis and it does not cover international companies working in Yemen.”
The delay in approving the law was a concern for many human rights and media organizations. The Economic Media Center last month presented a petition to the parliament signed by over a hundred civil society activists, demanding the law to be passed soon.
Before the law comes into force, it requires the signature of the president, which according to the constitution should happen within days of the parliament’s decision.
In a similar vein, the cabinet in its ministerial meeting last Tuesday endorsed a decree to prevent all forms of phone tapping except through a court order. It also approved the internal charter regarding penalties for violations of the wireless and cable communications law no. 38 for year 1991, presented by the Minister for Telecommunications.
According to the Ministry of Interior’s media office, the charter regulates the Internet and long distance calls, and prevents ‘smuggled calls’ and illegal communication services.
According to the media office, the black market in long distance calls is a “threat to national security and deprives the state of a source of income.”