CEDEM Helped Journalist Vitaliy Taranenko Obtain Information from the National Police

May 16, 2016

A journalist from the city of Khmelnytskyi, Vitaliy Taranenko, thanks to a consultation with the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law (CEDEM) to formulate an official request, received a full list of members of the National Police in the Khmelnytskyi region that had been dismissed.

One of the important areas of action for the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law (formerly the Media Law Institute) always was to provide advisory support on questions related to information and media law. In particular, lawyers from the organization provide clarification of legislation on questions on access to public information, and also assist in requesting public information. 

The Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law recently helped formulate a request for journalist Vitaliy Taranenko from Khmelnytskyi.

The story of him receiving the information about the list of police officers who been released from duty as a result of an appraisal in the Khmelnytskyi region is complex: the journalist spent two months waiting for information and only with the third request, compiled with advice from CEDEM, received a response. 

In the first request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, sent with the help of the site “Access to Truth”, the journalist asked to receive a list of officials of the Department of National Police in Khmelnytskyi region, indicating their qualifications and why they were dismissed from the police force.

In response to his request, Ministry of Internal Affairs responded that “according to article 14 of the Law of Ukraine “On Personal Data Protection”, distribution and transfer of personal data would require consent of the individual whom the personal data concerns. Concerning the provision of personal data of those who were released from service from the National Police, there is no legal basis to provide information concerning the results of the appraisal”.

We should note that this is a common method of deflection from the authorities, which do not wish to provide information about their officers or employees. However, they completely fail to take into account whether the information requested concerned employees’ private lives, or rather the performance of their duties. Indeed, the latter is public information in with the sense of the law “On Access to Public Information”. 

Article 6 (5) of the law “On Access to Public Information” states that “access cannot be restricted to information about operation of budget funds, ownership, use or disposal of municipal and state property, including copies of relevant documents, conditions for obtaining these funds or properties, and names of those who received the funds or property”. 

It was this article of the law that lawyers from CEDEM had the journalist turn his attention towards, as he had noted in his second request. However, despite the law, the Ministry of Internal Affairs found excuses on how not to provide this information. The response was that “Information about the results of this appraisal is not subject to the cited article”, and also that the information is confidential, because “the persons released from the National Police do not belong to the authorities and are not employed by the police; therefore, there are no legal grounds for providing information about  the results of this appraisal”.

The third request by Vitaliy Taranenko was formulated with the help of lawyers from the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law. In the request the following was stated:  

– Officials of the Department of the National Police in Khmelnytskyi, including those who were released, received a salary from the budget, and therefore, their full names can be publicly accessed. (Article 6 (5) of the law “On Access to Public Information” which prohibits restriction of access to information on the use of public funds);

– Other information regarding official activities and functions, including reasons for dismissal from the police, as a result of an appraisal also belongs to the open information.

– The information about officers who have not been certified is of public interest because it is important that people are confident in the police reforms. This is an extremely important issue in society that has been frequently covered in the media.

It was this third request, compiled with help from lawyers from CEDEM, that the police responded to and provided a full list of employees of the National Police in Khmelnytskyi region that had been released, as a result of this appraisal.

Thus, we can see that this case demonstrates the importance of correct generation of the requests for information, specifically outlining the public interest in access to the requested information, and, most importantly, the importance of persistence in receiving information, which is a right that the law guarantees.

For the text of the request and the details of these affairs you can find out more in the following links.