A Lawsuit, Thanks and Right to Access Information

Yazar / Referans: 
Bülent Şık, Bianet

We need to consider the lawsuit filed for announcing the results of a research conducted by the Ministry of Health to be an indicator for a more critical problem. The critical problem is the following: Why cannot citizens access studies conducted by institutions?

Last week, I was sentenced to 15 months in prison in the lawsuit filed upon the complaint of Ministry of Health on the ground that I announced the partial results of the research coordinated by the Ministry of Health with the aim of understanding the effects of environmental factors on health in Tekirdağ, Kırklareli and Edirne in Ergene Basin and in Kocaeli and Antalya.

It was something that I expected, I was not surprised.

I would like to extend my thanks to all people, institutions, organizations and initiatives who supported the judicial process.

With the verdict given at the end of the lawsuit, it has also become definite that the information acquired from the research conducted by the Ministry of Health and serving to protect public health when announced is information that needs to be kept confidential to protect public health.

It has also become definite with the court verdict that the announcements made to protect public health, the announcements made in the name of protecting public health can be penalized.

Ali Duran Topuz from Gazete Duvar news website has penned a comprehensive article about what this verdict means legally. It is an article that has clarified several things that I think about, an article that has made them loud and clear, it is very worth reading.

I would like to briefly mention what the verdict means to me personally.

I do not want the prison sentence given at the end of the judicial process to be discussed over my aggrievement. In fact, we were especially careful to avoid bringing something like that to the forefront during the judicial process. And the criminal sentence given after the hearing is neither the first, nor the last inappropriate ruling of our distinguished judiciary.

I feel the necessity to say these for this reason: I could have been acquitted at the end of the trial. But, in any case, the questions at issue would still remain as they are: A vast number of questions are unanswered:

Can a public institution avoid resolving problems that fall within its area of responsibility? Can an institution, whose duty is to protect public health, avoid this duty? What are the findings acquired at the end of the research? What kind of precautions have been taken? What detrimental effects do environmental pollution have on human health, especially on children's health? Is there a correlation between environmental pollution and cancer in provinces with high incidences of the disease? What has been done to eliminate water pollution in residential areas whose water is polluted to the level of undrinkability?

These questions were expressed by the lawyers who attended the hearings with a request for extension of the prosecution. The lawyers requested that these questions be addressed to Ministry of Health through the court.

However, these requests were rejected every time.

To sum up, the Ministry cannot be asked a question through the court.

What will we do, then?

At this exact point, we need to regard the the issue not solely as a problem of accessing the results of a research conducted by the Ministry of Health, but - more generally - as a problem of accessing results of studies conducted by various public institutions across the country.

We need to consider the lawsuit filed for announcing the results of a research conducted by the Ministry of Health to be one of the indicators for a more critical problem. The critical problem is the following: Why cannot citizens access studies conducted by institutions?

Yes, it might be the case that public institutions are no more, they are worn off or ruined. But, it does not mean that we should abandon the idea of public and discussions that would reinforce the ground of public life. On the contrary, I think it is a necessity that we insistently bring public interests and what is public to the forefront, especially in periods such as these.

Therefore, it seems important to express the channels that will enable access to information and, thereby, to discuss whether the public works are conducted within the boundaries set by laws and how one can acquire information about the studies conducted at the related public institutions about issues such as public good, environmental health and public health.

I am talking about being able to develop an answer to the question of how we can access tangible information that will provide a basis for protecting public interests and that concerns the lives of us all closely.

It is also a fact that several things ranging from nutrition, environmental health and education to the processes of tender bids at local governments fall within the scope of protecting public interest.

As I am a food engineer and mostly work on subjects close to public health, I naturally look at the issue within a food- and health-oriented framework. Within this framework, on the of the first things to do is to unveil what studies are conducted at the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, the institutions conducting works on food and water bodies. And, in terms of the right to access information, the question of how we can access information acquired from studies on protection of food, nutrition, human and environmental health conducted at these institutions comes to the forefront.

For instance, there are studies conducted in almost all provinces against health hazarding elements such as pesticide, heavy metal or Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) residues in foodstuffs, which frequently become a current issue, as well as food additives and microorganisms that are poisoning or infection agents in foodstuffs.

Why is the information acquired from these studies not open to the access of citizens?

On top of that, even though data processing systems and the Internet have been providing a sufficient infrastructure for - at least - the last 15 years...

I will try to elaborate on this issue through studies conducted on foodstuffs and water bodies later on.

I would like to once again thank everyone who expressed support and solidarity to the judicial process. (BŞ/DB/SD)

Source: https://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/213797-a-lawsuit-thanks...