S.African lawmakers approve secrecy bill amid public outcry

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South Africa's parliament Tuesday approved a controversial new state secrets bill despite an outcry that it will threaten democracy and prevent exposure of corruption by investigative journalists.

The bill was approved in a 229-107 vote, with the African National Congress (ANC) using its hefty majority in the National Assembly to muscle it through.

The measure, which imposes jail terms of up to 25 years, still needs approval from the National Council of Provinces before going to President Jacob Zuma for signing into law.

Hundreds of protesters dressed in black carried placards outside the parliament, some saying "Nelson Mandela help -- save our freedom!!" and "Say no to censorship".

South African anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu and the office of Mandela, the first democratic president. were among the leading voices warning the bill could mark the beginning of the end of freedom of information.

The bill would punish the possession or release of classified documents, even if the information serves society's best interest.

The ANC, in power since all-race democracy began in 1994, has refused to bow to pressure, saying the bill stands up to international best standards and would not target journalists.

© 2011 AFP

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