In what looks to many civil rights watchdogs like an ominous throwback to the days of apartheid, the South African parliament passed a law Tuesday that significantly curtails the ability of the press to cover stories about politically sensitive subjects, according to the government’s standards. Both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s camp are in agreement with other critics of the bill who believe it violates the country’s evolving constitution. —KA
The New York Times:
The legislation, which still must undergo further steps to become law, would make it a crime, punishable by lengthy prison terms, to disseminate anything that any state agency regards as classified. Critics have called the legislation a throwback to the apartheid regime’s harsh repression and say it is meant to protect corrupt officials from press scrutiny.
Anger over the legislation was embodied by the presentation of an article published last week in The Mail & Guardian, a major weekly newspaper here, about Mac Maharaj, the spokesman for President Jacob Zuma. Most of the text had been blacked out. This outcome, the paper’s editor said, was what loomed for South Africa’s press if the legislation became law.
The Protection of Information Bill, as the legislation is called, must still clear a national council of provinces before it takes effect. Critics have said they will challenge it in South Africa’s constitutional court.
“The bill in its current form does take us back to pre-1994,” said Elston Sippie, executive director of the country’s Freedom of Expression Institute, referring to the year South Africa became a democracy. “I do think it is a setback in that we fought hard and long to get our bill of rights accepted amongst all South Africans. And it is that bill of rights that is now under threat.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has sounded the alarm about the new bill.