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Justice ministry classifies Russian citizens' voting rights analysis

Elections.
Elections. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The Ministry of Justice has put together a cabinet meeting memorandum that includes a legal analysis of Russian citizens' voting rights in Estonia, while it refused to release the document to ERR on questionable grounds and has classified it as for internal use only.

The coalition agreement of the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party promises to "work with constitutional law experts on a framework for suspending the right to vote in local elections of citizens of the Russian Federation and Belarus without the need to amend the constitution."

Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) has spearheaded a draft bill aimed at limiting the rights of citizens of aggressor states of participating in local government council elections. The minister is set to present the bill to coalition partners and the public in the near future.

Minister of Internal Affairs Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told ERR Wednesday that his information suggests Justice Ministry officials have also drawn up an analysis of the constitutionality of stripping Russian citizens of the right to vote.

"As far as I know, such an analysis has been drawn up at the Justice Ministry, and my information suggests it cannot be done without amending the constitution," Läänemets told Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" news program.

The interior minister added that the government cannot back an unconstitutional bill.

This suggests that the analysis in question is a matter of overwhelming public interest, which is why ERR asked the Justice Ministry for a chance to read it. But the ministry refused to release the document, suggesting the material was for internal use only.

"The Ministry of Justice has prepared a cabinet meeting memorandum that includes a legal analysis," said Elisabet Mast, PR adviser for the ministry, adding that "the cabinet memo and its annexes are not public documents and are meant for official use."

ERR asked the ministry to provide the legal grounds on which an important analysis made using public resources has been classified for in-house use only.

The ministry's representative replied by pointing to section 35 of the Public Information Act, according to which draft documents and annexes can be classified as meant for internal use only before they are approved or signed. "These are not final documents signed by the minister and approved by the government, which is why they are not a part of the public record."

The ministry's reply did not satisfy ERR, first, because the draft bill to revoke the voting rights of citizens of aggressor states was sent to the public broadcaster by Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet himself. Second, while the bill might indeed be a draft and not a final document, the legal analysis sought by ERR should by all accounts be just that.

ERR points to section 36 of the Public Information Act that treats with prohibition of classifying information as internal. The law clearly states that holders of information who are state or local government agencies or legal persons in public law shall not classify as information intended for internal use "results of research or analyses conducted by the state or local governments or ordered thereby, unless disclosure of such information would endanger national defense or national security."

The law is clear in that such an analysis cannot be classified unless it poses a threat to national defense or security. It is difficult to imagine how a constitutional law analysis that directly concerns around 70,000 people could be construed as as a threat to national security.

ERR has decided to turn to the Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate for clarity in this matter.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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