INFORMATION is a priceless resource to which humans have a natural right. But this natural right is acknowledged more in its denial than in admission by those holding power over society and state throughout the ages. Every man's right to information or the slogan of free flow of information sounds very natural nowadays. Oddly though, when it comes to the implementation of this popular watchword in real life, it would be found that few countries have shown respect to this fundamental human right. Like every other fundamental human right such as right to food, clothes, medicare, shelter and education, the one titled, 'right to information' is also faced with an identical fate. In fact, the largest chunk of humanity is still living in a world of darkness like their great great grandfathers hundreds of years ago. As before, the benefits of the social and scientific revolutions are being enjoyed and usurped by the few who have the access to these benefits.
Whatever is enunciated in the sacred documents of the United Nations or in the constitutions of even the democratically run states, in most cases, there is no reflection of these written provisions for basic human rights in the life of the majority of the people. Small wonder that, notwithstanding the official recognition of these basic human rights in most societies on earth, the movement for establishing these rights is still as fresh as ever. In Bangladesh, where democratically elected governments have been in power for at least the last one decade and a half, there are certain laws in force in the country that are antithetical to the people's right to information. The Official Secret Act, the Evidence Act, the Rules of Business, Penal Code, and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), etc., are such restrictive laws that are being used by the successive governments with impunity to curtail people's democratic rights. Most of these laws are a legacy of the colonial period. But the modern democratic governments are using these laws conveniently and without any qualms whatsoever.
However, there is no reason to be unduly alarmed by this rediscovery that a number of restrictive and anti-people laws are still in existence in democratic Bangladesh. Many other South Asian countries are also not immune from this embarrassing reality. Thus, in a number of such countries in this region despite being run by democratically elected governments since long, an archaic law called Official Secrets Act still exists. As in the case of the Official Secret Act of Bangladesh, the people in authority in such countries can, too, always hold back valuable information from reaching the citizens and the media by force of this law. This has been happening without any rhyme or reason, though the governments of these countries are very much alive to the reactionary nature of these laws.
On the occasion of the publication of its anniversary issue, this paper, being strongly committed to upholding the right of all concerned to freedom of information, would like to note here that there is an important lesson to learn from this unpleasant fact of life. It is that the purely democratic trappings of a government do not automatically ensure total democracy in the lives of the citizens of a country. And to the people who do not have the access to a basic human right like the right to information, all talk about democracy has indeed a very hollow ring to it. So, there is still a world of difference between what is written in the book and what is practised on the ground in the countries that are widely known as democratic ones. On this score, the situation of the non-democratic countries is less said the better.