The European Court of Human Rights ruled that former Croatian parliament speaker Vladimir Seks's freedom of expression had not been violated by the authorities' decision to deny him access to confidential records of former president Franjo Tudjman.
The ECHR published their ruling on Thursday, in which they said that Seks had lodged a request with the Croatian State Archive to have access to 56 documents from the records of the President’s Office as part of research for a book he was writing, which were classified as “state secret – strictly confidential”.
In the press release, ECHR said that the reason cited by Seks, a prominent member of the HDZ party which ruled the country in the 1990s – was his book on the “founding of the Republic of Croatia,” and that the documents he was interested in involved transcripts of meetings which took place in the period from 1994 to 1999.
State agency Hina reported that the book was on “the fall of the Bosanska Posavina region,” an event which happened in 1992.
“Hence, the ECHR added, domestic authorities considered that access to 25 documents “could harm the independence, integrity, national security and foreign relations of the country,” Hina said.
His request from the state archives was forwarded to the office of the then president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, which formally owns the archive, who sought advice from the National security council, which rejected the request. The rejection was then reviewed by the information commissioner, the administrative court, and eventually the constitutional court – who all upheld the decision.
Thus, ECHR noted that former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović’s “decision refusing to declassify some of the requested documents had been based on an opinion of a specialised body dealing with national security issues and had ultimately been reviewed and upheld by the Information Commissioner, the High Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court.”
Domestic authorities’ refusal to declassify records was not flawed
The ECHR “found that the manner in which the domestic authorities had assessed the applicant’s request had not been fundamentally flawed or devoid of appropriate procedural safeguards.” The Court said “that in the context of national security the competent authorities could not be expected to give the same amount of details in their reasoning as, for instance, in ordinary civil or administrative cases.”
“Providing detailed reasons for refusing declassification of top-secret documents could easily run counter to the very purpose for which that information had been classified in the first place. Taking into consideration the extent of procedural safeguards provided to the applicant in the present case, the Court was therefore satisfied that the reasons provided by the national authorities for refusing the applicant access to the documents in question had not only been relevant but also, in the circumstances, sufficient.”
The Court concluded that “the interference with the applicant’s freedom of access to information had been necessary and proportionate to the important aim of national security and that the subsequent independent domestic review of his request had remained within the State’s wide discretion to decide on such matters. There had accordingly been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.”
Seks: Refusing access to documents not in state’s interest
In February last year, Seks told state agency Hina that the administrative and constitutional courts “for some odd reasons found, completely wrongly, that the publication of President Tudjman’s transcripts might threaten national security and damage national interests,” and that he had no other option but to resolve the matter at the European level.
Seks said he was denied access to 29 transcripts of Tudjman’s talks with various leaders and political figures from 1992 and 1993 which he needs for his memoirs, including Tudjman’s talks with the leadership of the ruling HDZ party’s Brod-Posavina County branch and an association of returnees.
He said the administrative and constitutional courts had made their decisions arbitrarily, and that classifying those documents was a “mistake.”
“We have no reason to be ashamed of anything in the Croatian people’s struggle for the Croatian state, and obfuscation only paves the way for those who falsify the Croatian struggle for statehood, freedom and sovereignty,” he added, without clarifying.