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SBI requires journalists to add an e-signature on a request for comment

19.01.2023, 18:37

Journalists from the Khmelnytskyi publication ZHAR.INFO sent a letter to the press office of the State Bureau of Investigation with a request to provide a comment for a report about Russian businesses in Khmelnytskyi. In response, they received a letter from the law enforcers, remarking that the letter was not appropriately signed.

This was reported by the IMI representative in Khmelnytskyi oblast.

The journalists, whose team operates on the basis of the public organization "Women's Anti-Corruption Movement", are currently working on a report about Russian businesses and the law enforcers' efforts regarding seizing the assets from persons connected to the Russian Federation. On January 11, the media representatives filed the agency's form with a list of questions and sent it, and the very next day they received a refusal letter saying that their request could not be registered without an appropriate signature.

The publication's journalist, Maria Turchyna, said that they were working on a report about the confiscation of assets from enterprises whose beneficiaries have ties to Russia. There is a case opened against one such company, the investigation is being carried out by the SBI.

"We contacted the local press office for a comment on this case. We were advised to submit a request in writing: it is an old case, they said, it takes time to prepare everything. We wrote a letter with a 'wet' seal, signature, date, i.e. with all the elements mandatory for an official application, scanned it, and sent it to the SBI via email. And they wrote back to us, saying that our letter could not be processed. We asked them to explain their stance, sent them an official reply. We received a certificate of the document being returned to us. The reason was the lack of an e-signature and the alleged impossibility to identify the applicant. That is, for some reason, a seal and a signature is not enough for them to identify a legal entity. In general, as practice shows with other institutions and state bodies, such a refusal is a formal excuse, and it is more about violation of the right to information," the journalist said.

In their email, the SBI referred to non-compliance with the requirements laid down in subsection 4.4 clause 4 DSTU 4163:2020 "Unified System of Organizational and Administrative Documentation. Requirements for Document Preparation".

When asked to provide an official answer, the journalists received, without an accompanying letter from the SBI, a certificate of document return, which stated that "during the initial processing of the letter No. 15 from the NGO 'ZHAR' dated 11.01.2023, which was sent to the State Bureau of Investigation e-mail address [email protected], a non-compliance with the requirements of subsection 4.4 clause 4 of DSTU 4163:2020 'Unified System of Organizational and Administrative Documentation. Requirements for Document Preparation' was found."

On the same day, the journalists printed the letter and sent it out physically via Ukrposhta, ordering a notification upon receiving. The law enforcers received the letter on January 16 and have not yet given an answer, although the journalists asked to provide one by January 19 inclusive.

IMI lawyer Roman Holovenko recommends that journalists send an information request and considers the SBI's response to be an excuse. However, he noted that a request for a comment does not oblige the recipient to provide one, since providing comments is a right, not an obligation.

"In this case I would recommend sending an information request, since it is providing information that the matter is about. Namely, what cases regarding Russian businesses have been, how is their progress going, and what is the current situation with these businesses' property. That is, this is the area of information access, there are no subjective opinions or other creation of information required. And the law on access does not provide for a mandatory digital signature for an electronic request. However, a request to provide a comment does not oblige the recipient to provide one, as providing comments is a right, not an obligation," the lawyer noted.

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