High Court orders government to promote access to information on Covid-19

High Court judge Justice Mafusire on 24 April 2020 ordered the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services to promote citizens’ access to information pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This follows an urgent chamber application that was filed by MISA Zimbabwe, represented by lawyer, Rudo Magundani, of Scanlen and Holderness. The Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, were cited respectively as first and second respondents in the matter,

The court ordered, with immediate effect, that the respondents should publish and disseminate on all available platforms, the daily Covid-19 updates issued by the Ministry of Health, in all the official languages.

Justice Mafusire, further ordered with immediate effect, and on a regular basis, that the Ministry of Information, shall publish and disseminate on all available platforms and in all official languages the following additional information:

i. The list of all private and public testing and treatment centers at national, provincial and district hospitals allocated for dealing with Covid-19 cases.

ii. The type and quantity of medical equipment and any other resources needed that is actually available any further procurements as and when made and how members of the public and private players with capacity may assist.

iii. In addition to measures such as lockdown that have been implemented, the plans and strategies that have been put in place both during and after lockdown by the respondents to combat and contain the spread and transmission of Covid-19.

MISA Zimbabwe position

MISA Zimbabwe looks forward to compliance and enforcement of the court order by the respective ministries.

Every citizen has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information concerning the nature and level of the threat that COVID-19 poses to their health including evidence-based guidance on how to stay safe.

In the interest of public health and building public trust and confidence, MISA Zimbabwe urges the government and relevant public institutions to be easily accessible and forthcoming with information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In that regard, the promotion of access to information by the government particularly on information related to its strategies in combating the virus, availability (or lack thereof) of various resources and equipment, will go a long way in promoting transparency and accountability which is key in building public trust.

The public should not be left to guess on whether or not government has sufficient resources to deal with the virus and prevent its spread. This will also assist in mitigating against any false or misleading information pertaining to government’s efforts in fighting the Coronavirus.

In doing this, the government should be encouraged by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information’s position on the critical duty of States in times of public health emergencies.

This responsibility and duty entails ensuring members of the public receive accurate, regular, accessible and science-based information on the threat COVID-19 poses to their health. In addition this also includes the role and impact of the measures adopted for preventing and containing the virus, magnitude of the spread and precautionary measures that members of the public should take.

Covid-19 related information should thus be availed to all citizens despite their location (cognisant of people in rural and marginalised communities), or, economic status (taking into consideration those that cannot afford internet access or the mediums being currently relied on for information on the virus).

Source: MISA Zimbabwe

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