S.Africa's ANC labour ally to challenge secrecy bill

24th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's powerful Cosatu labour federation vowed Thursday to challenge a new state secrets bill passed by its ruling African National Congress (ANC) partner amid worries for press freedom.

The ANC pushed the bill through parliament's National Assembly this week despite an uproar that it will rein in investigative journalism and whistleblowers with jail terms of up to 25 years.

"We will make an appeal to the president not to sign the bill," Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told reporters in Johannesburg.

The Protection of State Information Bill was passed to parliament's upper house, where a committee will now consider the legislation.

Quoted by Sapa news agency, Vavi hoped the necessary amendments would be effected during this process.

"The point we are raising is that if all that fails we will be left with no option but to proceed to the Constitutional Court," he warned.

Lobby group Right2Know welcomed the announcement by Cosatu, which is an ally of the ANC.

"Legal action should be treated as a last resort -- the people of South Africa should not have to turn to the courts to do parliament's job," it said.

"If the parliamentary elite fails to fulfil its commitment to protect and advance our rights, the Right2Know Campaign will continue to challenge the secrecy bill up to the Constitutional Court," it added.

Chief concerns are the ANC's refusal to allow a public interest defence that exposure of classified material was in society's best interest, and jail terms of up to 25 years.

The ANC insists the law 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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