13 November 2013

R2K Statement: Parliament passes Secrecy Bill again, and again (and then again)

On 12 November 2013, the National Assembly passed the Secrecy Bill with 255 votes in favour and 88 against. The Right2Know Campaign is not suprised by the decision and maintains that the Bill 'remains an unconstitutional threat to our freedom'. At this stage R2K is not discouraged by the decison and remians committed to opposing the Bill.


The R2K Statement

R2K activists protesting against the Secrecy Bill Yesterday after 5pm the National Assembly adopted the Secrecy Bill, defending its constitutionality for the third time in less than a year. MPs have confirmed R2K's fears that the President's return of the Bill on grounds that it was unconstitutional was nothing more than an delaying tactic.

When the President referred the Bill back to parliament we were willing to engage with this in good faith, but parliament has turned the process into nothing more than a sham. The campaign to stop the Secrecy Bill now reluctantly turns its back on Parliament.

The moment is bitter sweet as we recall the thousands of people that took to the streets and joined in solidarity around the world. We take pride in the rigour with which we forced Parliament to engage, reengage, and reengage again in reviewing the Secrecy Bill and can be proud of the many reforms we have forced into the Bill over the last 2+ years.

However, the Secrecy Bill without a doubt remains an unconstitutional threat to our freedom, with no full public interest defence, whistleblower protection or public domain defence (see briefing note below for a full list of R2K objections to the current Bill).

With few exceptions, MPs of the ruling party have shown themselves to be uncritical voting fodder for party caucus bosses under the sway of the securocrats. Rather than representing the aspirations of the majority of South Africans who remain trapped in poverty after 20 years of formal democracy, Members of Parliament have put their narrow career interests above their personal consciences and the needs of our democracy.

One of the few democratic gains from this process has been the emergence of the Right2Know Campaign. The campaign mobilised a unity of purpose across society that we have not seen since the struggle to end Apartheid. South Africans have united to stand for accountable governance that can meet the needs of all our people.

We will continue the struggle to defend and advance the right to know, challenging other secrecy legislation, fighting for transparency and accountability in our communities, demanding media freedom, diversity, and an end to profiteering in telecommunications so that we can all enjoy the right to communicate.

We remain committed to opposing the Secrecy Bill.

Parliament has failed in its duties by repeatedly endorsing this draconian Bill, and if the president signs it into law, we must, reluctantly, turn to the Constitutional Court to protect our hard won freedom.

For comment please contact:

R2K National Coordinator: Mark Weinberg (084 993 0591)
R2K Gauteng spokesperson: Dale McKinley (072 429 4086)
R2K KZN spokesperson: Desmond D'Sa (083 982 6939)


BRIEFING NOTE: Issues outstanding

Ensure a full Public Interest Defence. The current Secrecy Bill only has narrow protection for whistleblowers and public advocates that excludes a range of matters in the public interest like shady tendering practices or improper appointments within key state agencies.

Ensure full whistleblower protection. Under the current Secrecy Bill a whistleblower, journalist or activist who discloses a classified record with the purpose of revealing corruption or other criminal activity may be prosecuted under the "espionage" and other offences not covered by the proposed Public Interest Defense.

Don't criminalise the public as spies. In the current Secrecy Bill people can be charged with "espionage", "receiving state information unlawfully" (to benefit a foreign state), and "hostile activity" without proof that the accused intended to benefit a foreign state or hostile group or prejudice the national security; only that the accused knew or "ought reasonably to have known" that this would be a "direct or indirect" result.

Limit the Bill to the security agencies. The current Secrecy Bill still gives powers of the Minister of State Security to transfer classification powers to other state bodies (and junior officials) without adequate public consultation.

Include a Public Domain Defense. The current Secrecy Bill effectively criminalising the population at large. When classified information becomes public it is no longer a secret. Rather than holding those responsible for keeping secrets accountable, the current Bill punishes anyone who accesses information once it has been leaked into the public domain.

Reduce draconian sentences. The current Secrecy Bill still contains draconian sentences of up to 25 years in jail. These are out of line with international practice and will have a chilling effect on anyone in possession of information in the public interest.

Don't undermine the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The procedure in the current Bill permitting applications for the declassification of classified information is in conflict with the PAIA - despite commitments from Parliament to the contrary.

Introduce an independent review panel. The body established to review classification (a Classification Review Panel) is not independent enough and the simple possession of classified information appears to be illegal even pending a request for declassification and access.

Let the Apartheid truth be told! Information that has been made secret in terms of old and potentially unconstitutional laws and policies will remain classified under the current Secrecy Bill pending a review for which no time limit is set. This includes information classified under the apartheid-era Protection of Information Act of 1982 and the government policy adopted in 1996, the Minimum Information Security Standards.