New committee to consider S.African secrecy bill until April

26th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's parliament on Friday said a new committee had been tasked until April to consider a new state secrets bill passed by lawmakers this week despite fears that it will threaten press freedoms.

The National Assembly approved the bill's passage to a second chamber on Tuesday amid an outcry that it will penalise whistleblowers and journalists who uncover state wrongdoing.

"During the course of its work, which is scheduled to end in April next year, the committee will facilitate public participation on the bill, as is normally the case," said a statement from parliament's communications unit.

The bill was easily passed by the majority ANC this week but needs approval from the smaller National Council of Provinces made up of provincial delegates which has appointed a 15-member ad hoc committee.

Editors, activists and labour have vowed to challenge the legislation if it remains unchanged.

Chief concerns are over harsh penalties of up to 25 years in jail and the lack of a public interest defence to argue that airing state secrets is in society's best interest.

"It would be premature to engage in activities or processes not linked to the parliamentary processes, when these are not yet complete," said the statement.

"This includes approaches to the Constitutional Court to have the bill declared unconstitutional."

The African National Congress insists the Protection of State Information Bill will not target journalists and that it is needed to update apartheid-era secrecy rules, while still respecting current protections for whistleblowers.

© 2011 AFP

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