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International condemnation of Secrecy Bill

Publish date: 15 June 2012
Issue Number: 3057
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Legislation

The Protection of State Information Bill released an avalanche of international condemnation on SA during a UN review of its human rights record, according to a report on the Mail & Guardian Online site.

The US, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland all expressed concerns that the proposed law could threaten media freedom. The intervention - the biggest collective stand yet taken by foreign governments on the issue - was welcomed by activists who oppose the so-called Secrecy Bill. The report notes SA's human rights record was scrutinised by a working group of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. A draft report of the meeting shows Spain 'asked about measures adopted to ensure that the future protection of state information does not curtail freedom of the press and the right to information on possible inappropriate action by public officials'. Germany called on SA to 'safeguard the freedom of the press, through the abrogation of the Protection of Information Bill'. Norway said the country should make sure the Bill 'fully complies with international human rights law'. The Czech Republic asked SA to reconsider the Bill 'to ensure its conformity with ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), in particular by removing excessive penalties for publication of classified information and the inclusion of a public interest defence'. Full Mail & Guardian Online report

The countries not only demanded press freedom should be entrenched, but urged the government to engage with affected parties to reach common ground, notes a report on the Moneyweb site. In response, SA's delegation insisted the Bill was not aimed at the media. 'The primary purpose is not to regulate or interfere in any way with the media or access to information, but seeks to amend current statutes not consistent with our Constitution,' it said. 'Government has been very open and has engaged with the media and with civil society. The draft Bill is currently before Parliament.' Full report on Moneyweb site

Meanwhile, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has denied stifling debate on the Bill. According to a report in The Mercury, Cwele accused opposition parties of 'misleading' Parliament by suggesting that his department was interfering in the work of the committee processing the controversial draft law in the National Council of Provinces. State Security officials appearing before the committee on Tuesday rejected all 16 changes proposed by MPs, including those by ANC MPs. But Cwele said his department had been invited by the committee to respond to the proposed amendments. Cwele accused COPE and the committee's 'new mother, the DA' of agreeing to positions inside the committee only to 'run outside and say something else'. According to a Beeld report he was responding to a remark by COPE MP Papi Kganare, who told Cwele and his officials to stand back and allow the NCOP to amend the Bill without interference from the executive. Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed) Full Beeld report