Categories: Know Your Rights

Mehreen Farhan

This is a guest post by Jawaria Kashif, Advocate High Court Lahore. You can get in touch with her on email here, and her Facebook page here.

As part of a dedicated cause, Jawaria Kashif, Advocate High Court Lahore, brings up yet another useful article on the rights of Pakistani people. Most people are not aware of the tremendous rights given to them in the Constitution of Pakistan. It not only aims to empower but also inform its masses, so that in turn, people can make better judgements about what kind of people they want in their government.

The Right to acquire information is a fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan. However, the citizens are less aware of their basic fundamental right which is given to them by the Constitution of Pakistan, because this right is lesser acknowledged.

The Constitution of Pakistan states that, “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. (Reference: Article 19-A)

This Article 19 of the describes information as “the oxygen of democracy” owing to its importance in the processes of decision-making and opinion-forming of the general public.

Jawaria Kashif, Advocate High Court, Lahore

Although nearly 100 countries have laws that grant individuals a general right to access information, only 13 countries had such laws till 1990.

International Law for FOI:

On 28th September 2002, the organizations promoting FOI (which stands for “freedom of information”) all over the globe joined heads in Bulgaria and founded FOI Advocates Network. The aim of this coalition was to endorse the right of all the people to access government information. In other words, promoting freedom of information, which is essential to both democracy and good governance.

Thus the UNESCO General Assembly, in 2015, declared 28th September as the “International Right to Know Day”.

Sadly, most Pakistanis don’t know about this day and its importance.

What should and should not be made public:

According to the Constitution of Pakistan, the following records of all public bodies should be open for information access:

  • policies and guidelines
  • transactions involving acquisition and
  • disposal of property
  • expenditure undertaken by a public body in the performance of its duties and functions
  • Information regarding grant of licenses, allotments and other benefits
  • privileges
  • contracts and agreements made by a public body
  • final orders and decisions
  • including decisions relating to members of public

On the other hand, some information, which is not allowed for public access, is given as follows:

  • There will be no access to the official record of armed forces, defense installations
  • Details of individuals’ bank accounts
  • Defense and national security
  • Record relating to the personal privacy of any individual
  • Record of private documents where there is a clear condition that information contained in that document(s) is not to be disclosed to a third party.

 (Reference: Section 6 of the RTI ACT 2017)

What do you need to do to access this information?

Any Pakistani citizen can make a request for obtaining information regarding public offices by paying some amount, which varies on a case-to-case basis. The principal officer in these departments will have to provide the applicant with the relevant information within three to 10 days.

In case of non-availability of information, the officer will have to justify his act in writing and clearly state how the considerations of national security outweighed public interest. The applicant will still have the right of appeal.

An applicant who is not satisfied by the decision of the principal officer can make an appeal to the Information Commission within 30 days. The Information Commission (established under section 18 of this act) shall decide on this appeal within a period of sixty days.

Facts about FOI in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, the journey for Freedom of information (FOI) started in 1990.

The first ever FOI Bill was presented in Senate in 1990 by Professor Khursheed Ahmad.

Right of Access to Information bill was passed by the National Assembly in October 2017.

According to RTI ACT 2017, the citizens will have complete access to the record of public authorities.

Punishment of hiding or obstructing information:

According to this Act, any person who intentionally tries to hide information shall be punishable with a fine. If someone tries to destroy the record of the application or destroy the appeal for access to information shall be punishable for a term, which may extend to two years or fine.

Freedom of information


This law is one with a great impact. The government would become more accountable regarding corruption and inefficiency. The state would also be answerable to the public regarding the current status of several developmental projects made for the welfare of the public. In other words, its fair implementation ensures good governance, sound economy and respect for human rights.

The Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is beneficial for the citizens of the Pakistan, but the point is that most of the citizens do not have knowledge of this basic right. By using social, electronic and print media platforms, awareness can easily be increased among the people regarding the usage of this fundamental right. Most people are forced to pay bribes for accessing information, where otherwise it is a completely free of cost, basic right given to the people by the Constitution of Pakistan.

In the words of Edward Snowden,

“Your rights matter, because you never know when you’re going to need them”.

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