Battle against info bill intensifies
Cape Town - Rights campaigners on Thursday said they would ratchet up a campaign to prevent the ANC from ramming the current version of the protection of information bill through Parliament.
The Right2Know campaign said a meeting on Tuesday where ANC MPs used their majority to approve contentious clauses of the bill by vote, showed that the ruling party was reneging on concessions made in recent months and determined to drive a draconian bill through Parliament.
"The ANC position on the secrecy bill has hardened. As a result, its MPs have reneged on a number of concessions made in recent months to reduce the bill's powers," the group said.
New period of action
"The Right2Know campaign is calling for a new period of action to stop the secrecy bill. We call on all those who are seriously concerned by this turn of events to make their collective voices heard now."
It said the ANC must abandon efforts to pass the bill in its current form and go back to the drawing board to produce a piece of legislation that is in line with the Constitution.
Opposition MPs this week told the chairperson of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill, Cecil Burgess, that the bill flouted the constitutional requirement for transparency.
This came after ruling party MPs rejected calls for the draft law to be made to apply only to security and intelligence agencies.
As it stands the bill gives any organ of state - a category that by definition includes not only government departments but also the public broadcaster, libraries and even zoos - the power to classify information.
It also prescribes a minimum prison sentence of 15 years for anybody who makes top-secret information public. The provision is widely seen an attempt to curb investigative reporting and criticism of the government.
'Dark days of secrecy'
Right2Know described the law as a "regressive piece of legislation that threatens to take our country back to the dark days of secrecy".
Opposition MPs on Wednesday held an informal meeting with their ANC colleagues in a bid to reach consensus on the bill but said no progress was made.
This came after Burgess told MPs a day earlier that he was not prepared to allow debate on the bill to continue indefinitely and ordered that clause-by-clause voting begins.
"We’ve heard all the arguments many times. We will be here for another year if we have to hear them all again. There is no way that you will get 100% consensus," he said.
The deadline for the committee to complete its work is June 24.