Access to information essential element of citizenship

Interview with Mr. Abdul Hamid Safuwad, professor of the journalist faculty at Balkh University

By Manocher Ibrahimi

Qestion 1: Mr. Safuwat, first of all I would like to thank you for this opportunity. My first question is: what is the importance of access to information in Afghanistan today?

Discuss05-11Reply: I would like to thank CSHRN for this interview. I think access to information is a vital issue for the current Afghanistan. The participation of people in decisions taken by the government is very limited due to a lack of access to information by citizens. I think information should be accessible for all Afghans who are doing their best for establishing a democratic society. Otherwise, we are going to establish a centralized government, where citizens have only limited access to information. Such a situation increases corruption and injustice.

Question 2: Some people call access to information the oxygen for democracy. Do you agree with that? Is access to information an important principle for democracy?

Answer: Access to information is one of the main elements of democracy because access to information provides facilities for choosing the direction of development. Any obstacle regarding this choice will badly damage the legitimacy of power in Afghanistan. I think, legitimacy is an important element for any democracy. There are also a lot of national and international elements that should be clear for Afghans in order for them to understand the role of national and international actors in Afghanistan. In a nutshell, access to information gives citizens the capacity to understand the state, the international community and their own role in the current situation.

Question 3: Why is access to information called oxygen for a democratic environment?

Answer: I believe that access to information is the right to participate within the political structure in the decision making. Concluding from that, it means that any obstacle for access to information will jeopardize the newly born democracy in Afghanistan. So I believe that access to information is an important tool for democratization in the country. That is why I agree with the term that you used for describing access to information.

Question 4: What do you think, where is the link between access to information and freedom of speech?

Answer: I think there is a direct connection between the two. Freedom of speech is a general demand of a citizen in a democratic society in which access to information is a provider, or you may call it a guarantor, for the respect for freedom of speech. That is why for me access to information is a precondition for freedom of speech. But sometimes, they can also exchange their places.

Question 5: You know that CSHRN is working on a law on access to information in Afghanistan. Do you think that this will help?

Answer: Definitely. As I mentioned before, access to information is an important tool for a citizen to be connected with the authorities and if we can provide a legalized process of access to information, we can say that we are in a much better situation, because a law on access to information will force the information holders to disseminate information to Afghan citizens who need access to information.

Question 6: Indeed, you want to say that the law on access to information will create a constructive communication between the government and the citizens?

Answer: Yes, this is what I mean. I want to say that it also depends on their commitments to each other. On the one hand, the state has the responsibility to disseminate information; on the other hand, the right of citizens to access to information is strengthened through the CSHRN initiative of working on a law for it.

Question 7: There are some discussions that access to information reveals secret information of the state which is a threat for national security. How can we clarify the difference between information for citizens and secret information of the state concerning national security?

Answer: I think the upcoming law on access to information is not against the Afghan constitution. There is some other individual legislation which did definitions for national security. We should find a balance between the different legislations. A proper way should be found so that the implementing structures should work together and find a proper way of working on the information of the national security in Afghanistan. There should be some exceptions, but the exceptions should not limit the access of citizens to the general information in Afghanistan.

Questions 8: Maybe a national organization rejects giving information to citizens because of national security. What is your definition of national security?

Answer: I believe any organization which wants to keep their information and does not want to share it with others, could use the excuse of national security. Information about the police is one example. As I said, we have to define the national security for ourselves. For me, information related to national security covers secret military information which the national security and army may have. This information should be kept by them within their own structures. I hope that the law on access to information will define this terminology.

Question 9: What is the impact of the implementation of the law on access to information in strengthening the rule of law and good governance in Afghanistan?

Answer: I think I answered this question in my previous explanation. I believe, if people know what resources the government has allocated to the different aspects of their lives, such a transparency between citizens and government will definitely help good governance and the rule of law in Afghanistan. This is the most important thing that we need today in Afghanistan.

Question 10: The Civil Society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN) has provided the first draft law on access to information and started to debate this draft in the different provinces of Afghanistan with civil society, representatives of state institutions, intellectuals and activists. What do you think about this initiative?

Answer: I entirely welcome this decision as I was a part of the process in Mazar-e-Sharif. I will continue my support for the program.

Thank you very much for your time and the interesting interview.

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