Parliament has passed the Secrecy Bill (the Protection of State Information Bill) and now President Zuma must apply his mind in considering signing it into law.
The Right2Know Campaign calls on all freedom-loving South Africans and democrats across the world to contact President Zuma and appeal to him to stop the Secrecy Act and either return the Bill to Parliament for redrafting, or send it directly to the Constitutional Court for review.
“Dear President Zuma,
I am writing to you to call on you to not sign the Secrecy Bill (the Protection of State Information Bill) into law. I call on you to either return the Bill to Parliament for redrafting, or send it directly to the Constitutional Court for review. The reasons for my objection to the Bill are listed below – these are concerns I share with thousands of other people who have united to form the Right2Know Campaign:
- We demand a just and limited classification law that promotes our Constitutional rights. The current Secrecy Bill undermines our freedom of expression and right to access information guaranteed in the Constitution.
- We demand 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.
- We demand 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 Defence.
- 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 to the security agencies. The current Secrecy Bill still gives powers of the Minister of State Security to give classification powers to other state bodies (and junior officials) without adequate public consultation.
- Include a Public Domain Defence. 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.
- Demand an independent review panel. The body established to review classification (a Classification Review Panel) is not sufficiently independent 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.
- Defend our democracy! If passed the Bill would add to the general trend towards secrecy, fear and intimidation that is growing in South Africa today.
We call on you to apply your mind and reject the Secrecy Bill (Protection of State Information Bill) and uphold the values of openness and transparency that you and others have fought for in the past.