Secrecy bill sickening - Brink

Cape Town - The government's proposed secrecy legislation was a "sickening" throwback to the apartheid era, writer André Brink said on Tuesday.

He was speaking in Cape Town at the launch of a statement opposing the protection of information bill, endorsed by more than 180 civil society organisations and some 400 individuals.

Brink, whose Kennis van die Aand was the first Afrikaans book to be banned by the apartheid government, said he and many other South Africans had been in exactly the same situation in the late 70s.

Then, they had been protesting against the government's plan to tighten censorship legislation.

"When (then-cabinet minister) Connie Mulder then rose in Parliament to defend the position of the government, he did that in almost exactly the same words that the present government is using to deny that this is going to be censorship, to deny that this is really intended to restrict the press, restrict the free-flow of opinion," Brink said.

"The similarities between what happened 23 years ago and now are just sickening.

'Intentions are clear'

"It is not just a matter of anticipating the possibility of things going wrong.

"We know they have gone wrong (in the past), and almost certainly they will this time, because the evil intentions behind this bill are very clear for everybody to see."

Among other people who have given their backing to the statement, drawn up by the Right to Know Campaign, are Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, writer Nadine Gordimer, ANC veteran Kader Asmal, and author Zakes Mda.

The organisations endorsing the statement include Amnesty International, the Black Sash, the Freedom of Expression Institute, the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism and the SA National Editors' Forum.

In the statement they said the bill was reminiscent of the apartheid past, and called for it to be redrafted to comply with the constitutional values of access to information and freedom of expression.

The bill undermined the struggle for whistleblower protection and access to information.

"Whistleblowers and journalists could face more time in prison than officials who deliberately conceal public information that should be disclosed," they said.

In addition, the bill sought to draw a "complete veil" over the workings of the intelligence services.

Secrecy should be limited to core state bodies in the security sector such as the police, defence and intelligence agencies.

An independent body appointed by Parliament, and not the intelligence minister, should be the arbiter of decisions about what could be made secret.
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