Freedom of information
Are you dissatisfied with your government’s performance, and would like to know how the decision-making process works?
Are you confused about some aspect of the law, or a particular issue, and would like to know how things happen (or have happened in the past)?
Do you believe there’s something secretive about the way your country handles policy decisions and events, domestic or foreign, and would like to find out what is going on?
Are you looking for transparency so as to scrutinise the actions of your government and know the details that are usually kept hidden?
If so, then you need something called “the right of access to information”.
Did you know that all information relating to the work of governments and government departments, the expenditure of official institutions and officials, cases of corruption, the operating methods of security agencies at home and abroad etc., is in principle public, not just owned by the government? And that withholding it without exceptional reasons for doing so is a violation of the public’s right of access to information, which may point not only to government maladministration but also to corruption and a series of wrongdoings, covert and overt?
One of the fruits of true democracy is not just monitoring the government’s performance and holding it to account but also having the right to find out information that may help you understand how your country is run, leading to effective and genuine participation in decision-making.
The right to freedom of information, and of access to it, is your right to be a knowledgeable and informed citizen. It is a useful mechanism to help improve government services and the quality of their work, because, when citizens know what their government is actually doing, they can ask questions if there is any ambiguity about some aspect of its performance – for example public spending, the budget, public works projects, the judiciary, security or the law.
Sweden is widely considered to have passed the world’s oldest piece offreedom of information legislation, in 1766.
United Nations resolutions recognise the right of access to information as a fundamental right included in the right to freedom of expression, and defines it as “the right to access information held by public bodies”.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) enshrined this right in 1966 as a natural corollary of the basic human right of freedom of expression.
In Oman, this right does not exist in domestic legislation. The government controls the country’s administrative machinery, and even the enactment of legislation and the appointment of officials, regarding this as a natural right that does not need any public explanation or justification. Indeed, it never has any qualms about taking punitive measures against anyone who dares to question it or criticise its performance and its refusal to disclose information.
One of the main obstacles to having civilised, democratic laws respecting the rights of the public is that the Sultan holds many key positions, including that of prime minister, and this prevents anyone from knowing the details of what is going on, either before or after decisions are taken. Should a member of the public criticise some shortcoming or failure in the running of the country’s affairs, the criticism is seen as being directed first and foremost at the Sultan and the Internal Security Service. The ISS has frequently cracked down on activists who became fed up with the public being denied their right to information and instead produced their own incontrovertible factual evidence of poor planning and performance, the squandering of state resources and a cover-up.
At Oman’s previous Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, in 2015, Chile and Ecuador both criticised Oman for lacking the right to freedom of information. Although Oman accepted the recommendation to ensure the right to access information, it claimed that:
The right of access to information is guaranteed in Oman unless the information relates to national security or the sanctity of private life.
But if you don’t know how much of the state’s wealth the ruling family is taking;
or you don’t know anything about the operating methods of the Internal Security Service (“the Mabaheth”);
or you don’t know anything about legitimate matters of public concern that the government doesn’t officially admit to;
or if you don’t know anything about cases of corruption and who is behind them, and how only some of the corrupt (and not others) are put on trial and punished in order to throw sand in people’s eyes, mislead public opinion, enhance the image of the state and ISS and protect the real criminals, the big players, most of whom occupy senior government positions…
In short, if you don’t know anything about the country’s laws or the procedures you believe would help you in a fundamental way to understand how your country’s government works,
your right to freedom of information is being outrageously violated!
The greater the activity of governments, the more decisions they take,
and the more secretively they take those decisions, then the greater the risk
that the public will be duped, their national wealth misappropriated and
decisions distorted, and their lawful rights violated!