“No to Secrecy Bill, Let the Truth be Told!”

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Right to Know Campaign (R2K) in Gauteng voiced its objections to the Protection
of Information Bill (Bill) that is currently before Parliament and the subject of
considerable public debate with a silent march on 19 October.

The R2K Gauteng march also marked the start of “The Week of Action’
during which South Africans are called upon to support the campaign by holding
meetings, pickets and protests in their communities to defend and uphold the public’s
right to know and right of access to information.

R2K is national campaign and joint effort of a large number of civil society
organizations, members of the public, students, academics, artist, journalists who
have come together in defence of the public’s right to know.

Below is a summary of the concerns raised by R2K:  

The Bill will create a society of secrets:    

• Any state agency, government department, even a parastatal and your local
municipality, can classify public information as secret.       

• Anything and everything can potentially be classified as secret at official discretion
if it is in the “national interest’. Even ordinary information relating to service delivery
can become secret.       

• Commercial information can be made secret, making it very difficult to hold
business and government to account for inefficiency and corruption.       

• Anyone involved in the “unauthorised’ handling and disclosure of classified
information can be prosecuted; not just the state official who leaks information as is
the case in other democracies.       

• The disclosure even of some information which is not formally classified can land
citizens in jail. This will lead to self-censorship and have a chilling effect on free
speech.     

• Whistleblowers and journalists could face more time in prison than officials who
deliberately conceal public information that should be disclosed.       

• A complete veil is drawn over the workings of the intelligence services. It will
prevent public scrutiny of our spies should they abuse their power or breach human
rights.

Who will guard the guardians?     

• Officials do not need to provide reason for making information secret 

• There is no independent oversight mechanism to prevent information in the public
interest from being made secret.       

• The Minister of State Security, whose business is secrecy, becomes the arbiter of
what information across all of government must remain secret or may be disclosed to
the public.       

• Even the leaking of secret information in the public interest is criminalised.     
 

• Unusually severe penalties of up to 25 years in prison will silence whistleblowers,
civil society and journalists doing their job.       

• All these factors will limit public scrutiny of business and government, whether
through Parliament or journalists. Accountability will be curtailed and service delivery
to the people will be undermined.

R2K demand that the Protection of Information Bill – the Secrecy Bill – must reflect
the following:       

• Limit secrecy to core state bodies in the security sector such as the police, defense
&intelligence agencies.

• Limit secrecy to strictly defined national security matters and no more. Officials
must give reasons for making information secret.

• Exclude commercial information from this Bill.    

• Do not exempt the intelligence agencies from public scrutiny. 

• Do not apply penalties for unauthorised disclosure to society at large, only those
responsible for keeping secrets.

• An independent body appointed by Parliament, and not the Minister of Intelligence,
should be the arbiter of decisions about what may be made secret.

• Do not criminalise the legitimate disclosure of secrets in the public interest.

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