Russian lawyer fights for right to know

Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer who advocates for freedom of information in Russia, was hospitalized for a week after being attacked by four men. The police later told him the attack appeared to be related to his work, a mission to prise open stores of government information that he says are essential to Russian public life and by law should be in the public domain, but are kept from view by corruption and a lack of interest.

The battle for personal and political freedom in Russia is often framed as a contest between the Kremlin and its critics over the rights of assembly, speech and suffrage and for an independent judiciary, legislature and press.

As the director of the Institute for Information Freedom Development, a private organization he founded in 2004, Pavlov strives to teach government agencies that stores of information in their possession - manufacturing and sanitary standards, court records, licenses, fire codes, public tenders, administrative decrees, agency phone directories and registries of public and private organizations - should be available for all to view.

His work is necessary, he and his supporters say, because much of the basic information of governance in Russia has never been made public, even after the Constitution codified the public's right to nonsecret information in 1993.

The police said his near-fatal beating was an example of racket protection. At the time he was attacked, Pavlov was trying to a force a state agency to publish, free of charge, the standards used to regulate services and products manufactured in Russian factories.

Pavlov said that for his campaign to succeed he will need official support. He casts his work not as a confrontation, but as a law-based effort to press Russia to live up to its constitutional promise: "Our job is not to win all of the cases, or to force the government to publish all of the information, but to show people that they have rights."

Russian lawyer's fight for 'the right to know' (International Herald Tribune, 26 October 2007)