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ECHR rules that Ukrainian officials were unlawfully withholding information from "Chetverta Vlada" chief editor

05.09.2023, 15:03
Photo: Chetverta Vlada
Photo: Chetverta Vlada

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the decisions of the Ukrainian courts which ruled that the Rivne Oblast State Administration and the Verkhovna Rada officials had legitimate reasons to withhold public information from the "Chetverta Vlada" chief editor, Volodymyr Torbich, were unlawful.

This is reported by "Chetverta Vlada".

The outlet reports that back in 2011, Volodymyr Torbich sent a request to the Rivne Oblast State Administration, asking for information on the bonuses paid to the administration's staff in 2009–2011. Some of the departments answered the requests properly, but some provided no information at all. Torbich appealed to the court to challenge the refusal.

Also, in 2012, the Verkhovna Rada refused to provide Volodymyr Torbich with copies of some Rivne deputies' declarations, which he had requested. He only managed to get declarations from eight deputies who permitted it. The reply indicated that four more declarations were publicly available.

The chief editor contested the refusal in court. The case was considered by the Rivne District Administrative Court and the Zhytomyr Administrative Court of Appeal in 2012. Both courts dismissed the complaint, ruling that sharing information about the salaries and bonuses of state administration employees and copies of the deputies' financial declarations would violate the law on private data.

Moreover, the High Administrative Court refused to open cassation proceedings on Torbich's request.

The journalist also tried to challenge the Verkhovna Rada's refusal in court. The case was considered in Kyiv. Yet all the courts dimissed the complaint, explaining that the declarations contain data not only on the deputies, but also on their family members.

Disagreeing with the decisions of the domestic courts, Volodymyr Torbich appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. His interests were represented by attorney and media lawyer, Lyudmyla Opryshko.

Answering to the European Court of Human Rights, the Ukrainian government claimed that the editor had abused his right to file a complaint because the State Administration actually did reply to the first request. They also alleged that Volodymyr Torbich never used the information he received never specified in his request what he needed the information for.

However, the ECHR ruling that Ukraine's legislation does not require an explanation of the reasons for seeking such information. In addition, it could be reasonably implied from the editor's submissions that he was investigating the use of budgetary allocations by the authorities.

The ECHR has therefore no doubt that the information sought by the applicant was necessary for his right to receive and impart information on a matter of public interest within the framework of his journalistic activities.

Volodymyr Torbich only asked the ECHR to confirm that a violation had occurred, and did not put forward any other demands regarding compensation for costs and damages or otherwise.

The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine sent an official confirmation of Volodymyr Torbych's victory to the ECHR.

The judgement in Volodymyr Torbich's case is available here.

Anna Kalaur, Kateryna Dyachuk

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