Parliament has confirmed the arbitrary barring of civil society from Parliamentary attendance. A statement issued today by the Parliamentary Communications Services says that security officials took “precautionary security action” by denying entry to the Right2Know campaign on Tuesday.
On Tuesday Parliament’s security officials and SAPS officers stopped the Right2Know campaign from entering Parliament, telling activists they were banned from because of a silent, undisruptive protest that took place in a committee meeting on 15 February 2011. (Sanef has issued a statement in support of the Right2Know campaign. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution also sent a letter to the Speaker seeking assurance that Parliament will respect our constitutional right to attend Parliament.)
No explanation is given on why “precautionary security action” was deemed necessary, six weeks after our silent protest, nor why representatives of the campaign were denied entry: the delegation was registering at Parliament’s visitor centre to join other Right2Know members in a meeting on the Protection of Information Bill.
It is unclear from the statement issued by Parliament if this was an isolated event or if the Right2Know campaign has been permanently barred.
The Right2Know campaign has written letters to the Speaker of Parliament and the Chairperson of the ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill, requesting clarity on why civil society was barred from entering Parliament. Neither letter has received a response.
What is clear is that Parliament’s statement and any ban are in direct conflict with the spirit and letter of our constitution.
The Right2Know campaign calls on all democrats, including those in Parliament, to denounce any attempt to bar civil society from participating in Parliament. We urge them to make this week’s incidents a matter of discussion at the next meeting of the Secrecy Bill committee.
The committee is scheduled to meet at 9am, Friday 1 April 2011, and Right2Know campaign has no intention of being absent. The campaign will continue to monitor the parliamentary proceedings on the draconian Secrecy Bill, and will not hesitate to apply to the courts if any attempt is made to bar our participation.