Dear Mr. Üzümcü,
We are four journalists from Greek and international Media. During the last few months we have contacted several times the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which you are directing, with requests for interviews and information regarding proceedings for the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal on board the U.S. navy maritime vessel ‘Cape Ray’ with the method of Hydrolysis, to take place in an unidentified location in the Mediterranean Sea.
Unfortunately, the information and the reaction from the OPCW-Press Office proved very disappointing. Not only it failed to respond in a proficient manner to information requests but also has reacted to some of them with a surprising, not only to professional journalists but also for the standards of a UN organization, demonstration of annoyance.
In the case of the Cretan newspaper Nea Kriti, the journalist had to wait more than four months to get answers; in the case of the Greek Portal ThePressProject, the Slovenian newspaper Delo and the stringer of an international news agency, the journalists were advised to look for answers to the Frequent Asked Questions page or older interviews your press office gave to Greek media earlier on.
After Pentagon announced the start of the Hydrolysis on 7th of July, one of us contacted your information bureau for clarifications. Not only has the press officer ignored this inquiry answering that the bureau is not “a personal press service” but also up to date no relative confirmation has been uploaded to your website. In a following case a stringer of an international news agency based in Athens received an emailed from your press office protesting that in his piece he had mentioned the failure of cooperation with OPCW. The protest concluded that this happened because beyond a point the press office simply “stopped catering to the endless demands of Greek media”.
Though we fully understand the heavy workload your organization and your press bureau are dealing on a daily basis due to increased public interest about proceedings of the ‘Cape Ray’ operation while this is approaching a critical point, we also expect you to facilitate unlimited access for journalists to up to date information. We would like to remind you that your representatives with observer status on board is the only independent source of information available for hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens as well as millions of Europeans and people residing around the Mediterranean and beyond who follow developments regarding the ‘Cape Ray’ operation.
Due to the fact that up to date multiple experts, scientists, Members of European Parliament as well as civil activists have expressed concerns regarding lack of information about crucial details of the operation you observe. Given that weather conditions in the wider area were ‘Cape Ray’ is sailing have been characterized by experts as inappropriate for attempting hydrolysis on board. And given that the operation is concealed by secrecy, though we fully understand the sensitivity of a military operation, we expect your prompt co-operation in the following days and week.
According to the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), the public and journalists are entitled to unlimited information about a project that is experimentally taking place at sea.
We hope that your organization, through your press office, will respond generously to future requests for information by all journalists.
Giorgos Sachinis (Nea Kriti, Heraklion,Crete-Greece)
Chrisa Wilkens (ThePressProject, Athens-Greece)
Apostolis Fotiadis (Free Lance Journalist, Athens-Greece)
Bostjan Videmsek (Delo, Ljubljana-Slovenia)
(addressed to OPCW on 17 July 2014)