ANC vows action against secrecy Bill dissidents

The ANC threatened disciplinary action on Wednesday against party members who failed to support the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.

Civil organisations and the media took to the streets to decry the Protection of Information Bill, which the National Assembly voted in with 229 votes. The M&G takes a look at the protests across the country.

“Everybody that has come out publicly to criticise the Bill and show their disapproval, be it in Parliament or otherwise, has shown a severe form of ill-discipline. The ANC will discuss taking appropriate measures against members who are found to have been in opposition to the passing of the Bill and also engage the office of our chief whip in Parliament. We believe it could have been handled differently by raising objection within party channels,” ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday.

The National Assembly approved the controversial legislation on Tuesday with 229 MPs voting in favour and 107 votes against the Bill, with two abstentions.

ANC MP Gloria Borman was the only ruling ANC member in the House to abstain while party veteran Ben Turok slipped out of Parliament’s chambers just before the vote took place.

Borman told the Cape Argus on Wednesday she felt the Bill would hinder reporting corruption.

“I’m not a legal person, but there will be routes to follow [as recourse]. But [as] with most corruption, it’s usually the people on the ground — the poor people — that suffer and they don’t have the resources to follow these routes,” Borman was quoted as saying.

Turok was interviewed on SAfm earlier in the day, saying he believed the Bill had not been debated sufficiently within the ANC.

“I will vote happily for something I believe in, however, we’re not at that stage. There are too many unknown factors,” Turok said.

Sufficient debate
The ANC maintained the Bill was discussed sufficiently within party structures after it was withdrawn from the parliamentary programme of September 20 for further debate.

“When the matter was discussed by our national executive committee it was decided to return the issue to the structures of the ANC so that members could understand the proposals and consequences of the Bill and provide input if necessary. We expect more from our members, especially those in the National Assembly, to thoroughly understand legislation that is tabled in Parliament,” Khoza added.

Prickly issues
The Bill must now pass though the National Council of Provinces and, if approved, opposition is expected to follow at the Constitutional Court.

The Bill proposes harsh penalties for journalists and citizens found to be in possession of classified documents as well as harbouring state secrets.

Proposed consequences include prison sentences of up to 25 years, with no mechanism such as a public interest clause to challenge the proposed offences.

The Bill in its current form would see ordinary citizens and journalists treated as foreign spies if found to be in possession of information deemed to be a state secret.

There is no independent appeals mechanism available to citizens who wish to access information that might have been classified as secret without justification.

Sign the petition or lobby parliament here.

The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.

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