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S.African editors vow to fight information bill

Published on 17/09/2011

South African editors vowed Friday to fight a controversial information bill to classify state secrets with "draconian" penalties from being passed into law.

“Its lack of any public interest defence, draconian sentencing regime, broadness of application, and excessive shielding from scrutiny of the intelligence services are of grave concern,” said the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) after its annual general meeting.

“Sanef will continue to oppose the enactment of the bill and will take legal action, if necessary, to ensure that it ultimately complies with constitutional principles of free speech and open democracy,” the Sapa news agency reported.

The secrecy bill cleared a committee vote earlier this month after being sent back for redrafting and will go before parliament on Tuesday.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) used its majority to push through the bill without a public interest defence which activists fear will hinder investigations into wrongdoing.

The bill’s tough penalties targeting the disclosure and possession of material classified secret include being jailed for up to 25 years for acts deemed as espionage.

Opposition parties and activists plan to lobby President Jacob Zuma not to sign the Protection of State Information Bill into law and have threatened to fight the legislation in the country’s Constitutional Court.