Work on Secrecy Bill Delayed in South Africa Over Dispute

15 June 2012

Passage of the so-called secrecy bill in South Africa has been delayed amid what observers describe as disagreement within the ruling African National Committee.

In addition, more international criticism of this bill surfaced this week.

The National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee reviewing the Protection of State Information Bill on June 13 cancelled further meetings, “after the Department of State Security and the committee reached a deadlock over proposed changes.” according to a report in Business Day June 14. The report continued:

Ironically, many of the suggested amendments to the bill — which go some way towards addressing criticisms raised by public interest groups and stave off threats to take the bill on constitutional review — were proposed by ANC representatives on the committee.

On Tuesday the department rejected proposals by the ruling party to give greater protection to whistle-blowers, to remove all minimum prison sentences from the bill and to narrow the definition of national security.

Acting director-general of state security Dennis Dlomo told the committee national security had to be broadly defined to allow the state to use the legislation to respond to emerging threats.

Another account,  by the South African Press Association, began:

All further meetings of the committee redrafting the Protection of State Information Bill have been cancelled after ANC MPs and the department of state security deadlocked on proposed changes.

A parliamentary official confirmed on Wednesday that meetings scheduled for the next week were scrapped to give political parties time to deliberate on the way forward.

The chairman of the ad hoc committee, Raseriti Tau, will now seek an extension of the lawmakers’ June 22 deadline to report back to the National Council of Provinces.

The move comes after government on Tuesday objected to amendments proposed by the ANC in May, in response to sustained criticism of the bill and threats to take it on constitutional review.

The department of state security rejected proposals by the ruling party to give greater protection to whistle-blowers, to remove all minimum prison sentences from the bill and to narrow the definition of national security.

One June 14, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele denied stifling debate. “Speaking during an unrelated debate in the National Assembly on Thursday, Cwele accused opposition parties of `misleading’ Parliament by suggesting that his department was interfering in the work of the National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee processing the controversial draft law,” The Independent reported.

International Attention

The United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland  expressed concerns about the secrecy bill at a working group of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva, according to an article in The Guardian.

“The intervention – the biggest collective stand yet taken by foreign governments on the issue – was welcomed by activists who oppose the bill, which could make journalists and whistleblowers vulnerable to prison sentences of up to 25 years,” the British paper reported.

A draft report of the meeting shows that Spain “asked about measures adopted to ensure that the future protection of state information does not curtail freedom of the press and right to information on possible inappropriate action by public officials.”

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