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S.African photographer in information bill protest

Acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt has turned down a national honour in protest at a new state secrets bill approved this week in parliament, in a letter released Friday.

Goldblatt renounced the Order of Ikhamanga Silver, named for the bird of paradise flower and bestowed as one of the nation’s highest honours for the arts, saying the bill betrayed the cause of South African democracy.

“This action severely undermines our brave but fragile democracy and the rule of law,” Goldblatt said in the letter addressed to President Jacob Zuma.

Goldblatt, famed for his photographic portrayals of South Africa under apartheid, was due to receive the award on April 27, 2012.

The Protection of Information Bill imposes penalties of up to 25 years in prison for the release of top secret documents, without a public interest defence to argue that exposure of the information serves the general welfare.

Critics fear the law would be used to cover up corruption in government.

Zuma’s ruling African National Congress muscled the bill through the National Assembly this week, but it still needs approval from the second house of parliament, likely to happen next year.

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.