South Africa: Stop the Secrecy Bill

To South African MPs and the Government:

As citizens across South Africa, we call on you to protect our Constitutional commitments to accountability, freedom of information and the media in the "Protection of Information" Bill. We urge you to ensure that the bill only applies to core state bodies in the security sector, and that intelligence agencies are held to account by public scrutiny. Secrets with a bearing on national security must be determined by an independent panel appointed by Parliament and not the Minister of State Security. Penalties for unauthorised disclosure should apply only to those responsible for keeping secrets, and investigative journalists and legitimate whistleblowers should always be protected to release information in the public interest. Our democracy was hard-won, and we will not give it up lightly.
 
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Zapiro's cartoon about the ANC's media proposals
© 2010 Zapiro - Printed with permission from www.zapiro.com

Posted: 14 September 2011
photo: Avaaz members at Right2Know rally to stop the Protection of Information Bill

Right now a Parliamentary Committee is steamrolling through an unconstitutional secrecy bill that could take South Africa back to the dark days of impunity -- allowing government institutions to operate without public scrutiny, and stopping the media from exposing corruption, and abuse of power.

But public pressure is pushing back! Last week, after hundreds of media outlets and civic organisations had submitted amendments to Parliament, COSATU, Fedusa and the former Minister for Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils condemned the bill, which forced ruling party MPs were forced to prolong the Parliamentary debate. But the interests of the security sector are at stake, and to ensure this current bill is stopped will require an avalanche of public opposition.

The bill would undermine the Constitution and destroy key pillars of a vibrant democracy -- free media, open government and an informed public. Let's tell the political leadership that the people of South Africa vehemently oppose this Bill. Sign now, then forward this to everyone -- when it reaches 50,000 signers it will be delivered to Parliament, the Executive and key international allies.

Right now ruling party MPs are forcing the Committee to vote clause by clause on a secrecy bill that entirely counters the African and emerging economies movement towards more open government. The Bill would empower officials in nearly every state body to classify any document as secret on the basis of a vague definition of 'national security'. Poor communities could be denied requests of information about service delivery and where their tax is being spent, and if abused, a local clinic, municipal office or national ministry could use the bill to cover up corruption or misuse of public resources. The Bill would also lock up anyone who possess or publishes anything that is classified for a minimum of 15 years, even if that information is clearly in the public interest, deterring investigative journalists, and whistle-blowers from exposing official crime and corruption.

The Protection of Information Act of 1982 needs to be replaced, but there is a formula that would not flout citizens' constitutional rights and would protect secrets. A democratic and strong law would: have an independent panel appointed by Parliament to determine what secrets had a bearing on national security; only apply to institutions in the security sector; endorse public scrutiny of the intelligence agencies; and would ensure that legitimate whistleblowers that disclose secrets in the public interest are always protected.

Last year we worked with citizens and organizations across the country to raise the alarm and together we halted the bill's progress. And last week a surge of public criticism pushed ruling party MPs to take their foot off the accelerator. People power works! Basic freedoms and democratic rights are on the line and we have no time to lose. Let's build a monumental movement to oppose this regressive bill. Sign the urgent petition and forward this message to everyone.

South Africa's Constitution is held up around the world as a model foundation for democracy. Let's stand together now to protect it, and oppose those who are attempting to throw a shroud of secrecy over government and use this bill to protect power and privilege.

Right now a Parliamentary Committee is steamrolling through an unconstitutional secrecy bill that could take South Africa back to the dark days of impunity -- allowing government institutions to operate without public scrutiny, and stopping the media from exposing corruption, and abuse of power.

But public pressure is pushing back! Last week, after hundreds of media outlets and civic organisations had submitted amendments to Parliament, COSATU, Fedusa and the former Minister for Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils condemned the bill, and on Friday ruling party MPs were forced to prolong the Parliamentary debate. Vested interests are at stake, and to ensure this current bill is stopped will require an avalanche of public opposition.

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