Right2Know activists banned from Parliament
Nine activists from the Right2Know campaign have been barred from entering the Parliamentary precinct today. The R2K activists had intended to join other members of the public in monitoring a scheduled sitting of the ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill. The decision to deny civil society access to parliament is at best arbitrary, and at worst unconstitutional and flies in the face of reports this week that the Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu, has put his foot down to say that portfolio committee meetings should be open to the public.
• Eight R2K activists, all members of community-based organisations who oppose the draconian Secrecy Bill, went to Parliament at 2.30pm to attend a meeting of the ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill, as they have done as concerned members of the public on dozens of occasions over the last nine months.
• As they registered at Parliament’s visitor’s centre, they were called aside by Mr Eugene Stevens, a parliamentary official, and told they would not be allowed to enter parliament as they were banned. This took place in the presence of uniformed members of the South African Police Service.
• When asked for valid reasons for this decision, the official, Eugene Stevens, said this decision was supposedly based on a silent protest by a handful of Right2Know activists in Parliament on 15 February 2011.
• During the past five weeks, Right2Know has received no communication from Parliament indicating that its members would be barred from the Parliamentary precinct.
• The Constitution provides the following:
59. Public access to and involvement in National Assembly
The National Assembly must facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the Assembly and its committees; and conduct its business in an open manner, and hold its sittings, and those of its committees, in public, but reasonable measures may be taken to regulate public access, including access of the media, to the Assembly and its committees; and to provide for the searching of any person and, where appropriate, the refusal of entry to, or the removal of, any person. The National Assembly may not exclude the public, including the media, from a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.
The Right2Know campaign wrote a letter to Parliament demanding that it allows Right2Know activists access to Parliament, failing which Right2Know reserved the right to bring an urgent application to this regard. Nearly an hour after serving this letter to officials at the entrance of Parliament, our members were allowed inside – but only once the meeting had ended.
The Right2Know campaign is writing to the office of the Speaker this evening to demand clarity on why Right2Know’s activists were banned. The Speaker needs to give assurances that members of the public and civil society will not be the subject of arbitrary and unconstitutional bans from the people’s parliament! The Right2Know campaign will continue to participate in parliament and demand that our rights be recognised. We will not hesitate to approach the courts should we be denied access to parliamentary proceedings in the future.
For comment please contact:
Alison Tilley, Right2Know parliamentary liaison: 071 671 8654
Nkwame Cedile, Right2Know Western Cape coordinator: 078 227 6008
Murray Hunter, Right2Know national coordinator: 072 672 5468