The Taipei High Administrative Court has ruled in favor of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) in a lawsuit filed two years ago against the Council of Agriculture (COA) for not providing sufficient information about avian influenza to the public.
The case was filed by the group in early 2010 after it received an anonymous report with evidence suggesting that the COA’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) had been withholding information on an avian influenza infection from the public.
In May of the same year, the group asked the bureau to provide related documents in accordance with the Freedom of Government Information Act (政府資訊公開法).
Its request was rejected by the council for the reason of “protection of official confidential information,” and was also rejected by the Executive Yuan when it made an appeal in late June, stating reasons of “possible privacy invasion” and “protection of official confidential information,” EAST said.
Having no other way to acquire the documents, the society filed a lawsuit with the Taipei High Administrative Court against the council in January 2011, and after 15 court sessions over the past two years, the court on Wednesday ruled the council had broken the law and should provide the requested documents.
“The court’s verdict affirms that the COA’s refusing an application for information of public interest is in violation of the law, and serves as a precedent for other governmental agencies to publicize information,” said Chen Yen-chun (陳彥君), a volunteer lawyer commissioned by EAST.
The society said it appreciates the court’s ruling because it highlights the spirit of the Freedom of Government Information Act — protecting the public’s right to be informed about and monitor public issues as well as improving democratic participation.
However, it added that because of the council’s refusal to provide related information and concealing the actual situation from the public, the H5N2 avian influenza virus mutated and later led to a high number of pathogenic avian influenza cases across the nation last year.
EAST executive director Wu Hung (朱增宏) said it is a shame that the government had to spend taxpayers’ money to reaffirm the fact that government information should be accessible to the public, adding that the organization would request the documents as soon as it receives the court‘s verdict.