S African Parl adopts secrets bill amid protests

The approval of the Bill comes amid protests by thousands of people across the country, dubbing it a "Black Tuesday".

Last Updated: Nov 22, 2011, 22:32 PM IST

Johannesburg: The South African Parliament
on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposed law to protect state
secrets amid widespread criticism that it would stifle
expression.

The Protection of Information Bill got the support of 229
lawmakers in the National Assembly where the ruling African
National Congress (ANC) enjoys overwhelming majority. There
were 107 votes against the Bill and two abstentions.

The approval of the Bill comes amid protests by thousands
of people across the country, dubbing it a "Black Tuesday".

Civil Society organisations and mediapersons have vowed
to take the issue to the constitutional court, the highest
authority in the country, if the Bill, which will now be sent
to the Council of Provinces for ratification, is made into law
before the end of this year.

Popularly known as the Secrecy Bill, opponents have
argued that rather than the stated intention to replace
apartheid-era legislation governing the classification of
state secrets, it would mean severe punishment for anyone
publishing classified information, even if it is in the public
interest.

Members of the civil society have demanded that a
provision for a public interest defence be incorporated in the
bill to allow journalists and others to publish classified
information in public interest.

The bill`s critics included two Nobel prizewinners: peace
laureate Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and literature
laureate Nadine Gordimer.

Tutu said in a statement yesterday that it is "insulting
to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that
could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing and investigative
journalism ... and that makes the state answerable only to the
state."

The ruling ANC has also been flayed for rushing the Bill
without extensive public consultation, thus endangering the
new-found democracy in South Africa.

PTI