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Iran's Freedom Of Information Website Is Short On Content And Barely Used

A graphic used on Iranian governmental website for "free access to the information".
A graphic used on Iranian governmental website for "free access to the information".

Iranian Judiciary, intelligence and security organizations as well as the country's police force have refused to cooperate with the Rouhani administration's "Freedom of Information Access" (FOIA) database.

The Guardian Council and Expediency Council are among other bodies that deny citizens' right to access unclassified information.

President Hassan Rouhani's administration has set up the FOIA in July 2017 in a bid to make the government's activities transparent.

However, critics say that the information available in the database are outdated and insignificant.

"There is some burnt-out information there, and very little up-to-date data," Says MP for Rasht, Gholamali Jafazadeh Imanabadi, adding that "many people in the government fear transparency."

Although the site is accessible from abroad, but it may not be possible to sign up.

The Rouhani administration has set up the database "only to tick a box," outspoken Imanabadi told reporters in Tehran, adding that "nobody checks to see if it really works."

It took the Majles eight years to ratify the Freedom of Information Law, a legislation that gives ordinary Iranians access to unclassified information about the government's performance and activities. FOIA was supposed to put the law into practice.

However, as Imanabadi has observed, the database currently contains some minimal information including official statistics, government regulations, contracts and procedures, the authorities and responsibilities of various organizations as well as guidance about how to complain if something does not work.

Reports say that less than half of the governments executive organizations and only certain parts of the legislative body are linked to the database and contribute to it. Out of the 11 organizations comprising the Judiciary, only one is linked, and out of 427 other government, religious and military institutions only around 40 provide information to the database.

For instance, some of the most significant and influential institutions such as the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, the Friday Prayers Headquarters, the Supreme Council of National Security, the Army and the IRGC have refused to ingest their information into the system and have ignored the Rouhani administration's call for registering their unclassified information with the database.

On the other hand, the information currently available in the database includes a list of the names of all the deceased people between 1989 and 2006, a list of international games Iranian athletes have taken part in, samples of insurance policy of pilgrims to religious sites in Iraq, Mehr Housing Project purchase contracts, the texts of some laws such as the Press Code, and Municipal Taxes Law, as well as 25 samples of government correspondences.

The total number of Iranians who have signed up with the database from the country's 31 provinces during the past year is 5,100.

While the database has been operational, some 2000 Iranians from the Tehran Province have signed up with the database which contains information about 379 government organizations. During the past year, they have made 359 inquiries, mainly asking for the text of contracts with the government.

The smallest number of applicants are from Sistan and Blauchestan (43) and Ilam Province with only 20 applicants to sign up with the database.

According to Iranian media, during the past year the site received 305 complaints from citizens about the performance government organizations. Most of the complaints came from Hormozgan Province in the south.

The government has only responded to 130 inquiries with an average processing time of 48 days for each inquiry.

Some organizations such as the State Audit Organization have not responded to any of the inquiries.

Nevertheless, the site's assessment of the government organization's accountability was positive as it gave them "good" and "acceptable" ratings.

None of the inquiries or answers to them have been made public on the database's site, although the results of an assessment made by the site's administrators indicate that users have rated the Interior Ministry and Central Bank's responses to inquiries as the "least satisfactory".