Lawyers say info Bill will muzzle the public

The Protection of State Information Bill in its present form would not only silence the media, but also the public, the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) said on Sunday.

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.

“The courts, to a large extent, remain the preserve of the wealthy and most ordinary citizens who become aware of corruption and maladministration will be silenced for life if the Bill goes unchallenged,” said co-chairpersons Nano Matlala and Praveen Sham.

This jeopardised the legal profession as lawyers had the role of speaking for the public and standing up for public interest.

The LSSA said it was distressed and disappointed that the Bill had been passed in the National Assembly last week.

Matlala and Sham said the society would approach President Jacob Zuma to raise its concerns about the present draft of the Bill being a threat to democracy.

‘Undercurrent of fear’
The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba echoed these sentiments in an open letter to Zuma on Sunday.

In the letter, he recalled the “undercurrent of fear running through our lives” during apartheid, and raised his concerns that the Bill could lead to a recurrence of this state.

Both Makgoba and LSSA said they respected that state secrets should be classified, but a public-interest defence clause had to be added in order to protect accountability and sustainable democracy.

Makgoba concluded the letter with: “As a fellow South African and Christian, I ask you not to sign this Bill. Listen again to the cries of your people”. – Sapa

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