S.Africa's ANC to act on MPs who abstained on secrecy vote

23rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's ruling African National Congress on Wednesday said it will act against members who did not vote for a new secrecy bill criticised as an attack on press freedom.

The party muscled the bill through the National Assembly on Tuesday with a 229-107 vote, but two of its lawmakers have voiced concerns over the legislation which criminalises the possession and release of sensitive material.

"The conduct of comrades like Ben Turok in raising their objections by abstaining and using the media smacks of ill-discipline and will be handled internally by the ANC," the party said in a statement.

Turok walked out of the chamber before the vote that sent the Protection of State Information Bill to the upper house and said more time was needed on the controversial legislation.

"It does affect the democracy we want and the constitution, so the ANC itself must go through an elaborate consideration of it," he told The Star newspaper.

"I made my decision as a matter of principle. I felt I could not participate in the voting," he added.

The bill has been criticised for not including a public interest defence, to argue exposure of classified material was in society's best interest, and with jail terms of up to 25 years.

Another ANC lawmaker who abstained said she feared that the bill would make investigative journalism more difficult.

"In the end, I abstained because I believe our fight against corruption can be hindered by this... I couldnt vote for it, and couldnt vote against it, so abstaining seemed the best route," Gloria Borman told the Cape Argus.

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.

But the bill has been slammed locally and internationally over fears that it will curb exposures of government wrongdoing.

All opposition parties voted against its passing and various groups have sworn to challenge its constitutionality in court.

© 2011 AFP

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