Fears of retribution in using RTI

 

Reservations have been voiced about the active use of RTI by the ordinary Sri Lankan citizen. Russell, a 38-year-old advertisement executive comments thus: ‘It is good to have this kind of opportunity to speak to government but laymen wouldn’t go up to that level, there may be threats that come.’ There is still fear about the repercussions of exercising civic rights – how can RTI be successfully implemented in such an atmosphere? Jurie believes that responsibility lies with institutions such as the media to make good use of RTI. ‘Media is more powerful than laymen to ask,’ he said.

The threat of harm to RTI requesters is indeed a possibility, as the Indian experience demonstrates. RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak was spurred to detail the various attacks and harassments related to RTI, amassing data collected from the time of enactment in 2005 to 2016. To counter the repercussions for citizens using RTI, The Whistleblowers Act was enacted in 2014 to protect applicants but Nayak does not believe that this is efficient. He advocates for an alternative approach: ‘Rather than create a new mechanism for protecting RTI users, the Information Commissions must be empowered to work in sync with other public authorities such as the police, the courts, the Human Rights Commissions, Vigilance Commissions or Lokayuktas to protect RTI users from harm at every stage.’

In Nayak’s report, journalists, human rights defenders, and RTI activists are amongst those who have been attacked for RTI-related reasons. Hence journalists also run risks associated with safety. Senior journalist Dilrukshi Handunnetti however believes that ‘good journalism itself is a safety net and accurate journalism is the best shield journalists can have. Reporting and analyzing, using public documents is a professional practive.’

‘The state has a responsibility to protect journalists and citizens (including RTI activists),’ Handunnetti further commented. ‘Just as much as the onus is on the government machinery to proactively disclose information, protecting those who utilize the new progressive law is also its duty.’