In this age of knowledge, access to information has become increasingly important. Information, according to article 2 of Law N° 04/2013 OF 08/02/2013 relating to access to information can be in form of speeches, documents, pictures, mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, contracts, papers, samples and any other material that might interest the public.
Paragraph one of article 3 of Law N° 04/2013 OF 08/02/2013 relating to access to information says, “Every person has the right of access to information in possession of a public organ and some private bodies.”
Some public organs include ministries, courts, and regulatory institutions such as Rwanda Environmental Management Authority. Private bodies include institutions such as banks that are privately owned.
The right to access to information means that you have the right to assess the activities, documents and records and to make copies of the information of organ from which you are interested in accessing information.
However, you are not entitled to every piece of information. Article 4 of Law N° 04/2013 OF 08/02/2013 relating to access to information provides conditions under which information may be withheld.
Information can be withheld if it destabilizes national security, or interferes with the enforcement of law or justice. Information that interferes with an individual’s right to privacy and is not of public interest can also be withheld. Another reason for withholding information is to avoid violating the protection of trade secrets and intellectual property rights.
Article 4 of the law relating to access to information says that information is in two parts; one part confidential and another part containing information that can be published, then one can request for access to the part that is allowed to be published.
In addition to gaining access to information, every person has the right to express and discuss his/her opinions. This is according to paragraph two of article 91 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. However, the information must be done in accordance with what is lawfully acceptable.
Individuals can use different channels of disseminating information, one of them being the internet. Article 56 of Law N°22/2009 OF 12/08/2009 on media particularly supports the right to use the internet. It says, “Every person has right to receive, disseminate and send information through internet. He/she has full right to create his/her own website.”
Information is powerful. It can enlighten, nurture and heal but it can also do as much damage as destroying the peace of an entire country. Therefore, it must be used and spread cautiously.