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Czech Republic Passes Law on Access to Information

PRAGUE, May 11 (CTK) - The Chamber of Deputies today passed the law on free access to information, under which all citizens have the right to be provided with information by the state and local administrative bodies, and some other institutions.

The law was supported by 111 of the 172 deputies present. The Chamber supported draft modifications to the bill proposed by the Senate. In March the Senate turned down the bill, which had been passed by the Chamber before, thus returning it to the Chamber. The law, which is to take effect as of 2000, has yet to be signed by the president.

To protect information from abuse, the law says that the making of information public must not run counter legislation on the protection of classified information, business secret and personal data.

The law does not enable business secret to be made public. However, it does not consider information on the use of public finances to be secret. That is why information on the use of the state budget funds is to be available under the law.

Apart from secret information, the authorities cannot provide information on incomplete prosecution, court decision making and the work of intelligence services.

To claim information, people can turn to the authorities verbally or in writing, including through e-mail, fax and telephone. If the authority does not comply with citizen's request, he or she can appeal in writing to the superior authority. In case of a failure he or she can turn to the court. The claimants will have to partly or fully cover the authority's expenses involved.

Under the new law, the authorities are obliged to publish basic information on themselves in their seat and on the Internet, as well as guidelines for how to obtain further information.

The law made it through thanks to support from the governing Social Democrats (CSSD) and the minor opposition Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).

The bill was supported by only six members of the 63-strong deputies' group of the senior opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with most deputies voting against and others abstaining from the vote. About a half of the 24-member Communist (KSCM) group also voted against.

The Chamber approved information bills twice before. For the first time it passed one last May. The Senate subsequently returned it to the lower house, which, however, could no longer deal with it due to the early elections held in mid-1998..

The Senate submitted its own version of the bill, which the Chamber passed - including some amendments - this February, but the Senate returned it to the Chamber again with other draft amendments. This version, the third one, was passed today.

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