"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Friday, November 25, 2011

South Africa cracking down on a free press

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu attacked a new "state secrets" law that
imposes 25 year jail terms on journalists and others for possessing "classified" government documents

Archbishop Desmond Tutu  -  The new State Secrets law "makes the state answerable only to the state.”

South African MPs have overwhelmingly approved a controversial media bill despite widespread criticism.

Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it “insulting” and warned it could be used to outlaw “whistle-blowing and investigative journalism”. South African journalists wearing black have staged a protest against the so-called “secrecy bill” outside the headquarters of the governing African National Congress.

The ANC says the law will safeguard state secrets and national security reports the Zimbabwe Independent.

The Protection of State Information Bill still proposes tough sentences of up to 25 years for anyone possessing classified government documents, with no defense of acting in the public interest.

The bill’s critics see it as an assault on a vigorous media, which has drawn attention to allegations of corruption by senior ANC officials.

The ruling African National Congress rams through a state secrets law attacking the media and
helping to create a more authoritarian nation.

The ANC has a two-thirds majority in A 400-seat National Assembly — the bill passed by 229 votes to 107, with two MPs choosing not to vote.

The bill has still to be passed by the upper house — likely to happen next year — and signed by the president before becoming law.

The office of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president and also a Nobel peace laureate, also has expressed reservations about the bill.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance told parliament that it would petition the Constitutional Court to have the bill declared unconstitutional if the president signed it in its current form.

Archbishop Tutu appealed to lawmakers not to approve the bill.  He said it was “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”.

South African Nobel prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer has also condemned the bill, which she said was taking South Africa back to the years of white minority rule, the Johannesburg-based Times Live news site reports.

The bill was “totally against” freedom, she said.

“The corrupt practices and nepotism that they [politicians] allow themselves is exposed if we have freedom of expression,” Gordimer is quoted as saying.

South Africa’s National Press Club (NPC) — backed by the Right2Know campaign group — called on people to wear black and dubbed the day of the vote “Black Tuesday” in a reference to apartheid-era press restrictions.   (Zimbabwe Independent)

People protesting against the Secrets Bill in Cape Town, South Africa.  Sign at right reads “Give Us Our Rights”.

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