21 November 2012

South Africa: Protesters Camp Out to Oppose 'Secrecy Bill'

Photo: PHOTOESSAY: Right to Know Protesting Outside Parliament

Mark Weinberg is the coordinator of Right to Know Campaign, which is a "coalition of many organisations and activist who are building a people's movement to support community struggles for access to information and freedom of expression and it was launc…

Cape Town — "We love Zuma but down with him", chanted a group of more than 20 protesters at the gates of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, during a rally against the implementation of the so-called Secrecy Bill.

President Jacob Zuma's government is behind the controversial Protection of State Information Bill which will limit access to government information in South Africa.

In their red and white Right2Know T-shirts, the protesters sang struggle songs, dancing and whistling.

The group was made up of representatives from different organisations - Right2Know, Equal Education, Methodist church pastors - among others.

Co-ordinator of the event Mark Weinberg said: "If Zuma approves the bill, we will then take it up to the constitutional court. We won't quit up until the people's demands are heard."

Chairperson of the South African Editors' Forum's media freedom committee and Mail and Guardian editor, Nic Dawes, was among those at the march. Dawes said that he will help fight against the passing of the bill because he regards it as illegitimate. "We will continue campaign against this unlawful bill and go on with this fight, which still has a long way to go," he said.

The controversial Bill proposes stiff penalties for journalists and citizens who are found with classified documents, and having state secrets in their possession - with suggested sentences of up to 25 years with no way to challenge the proposed offences, like a public interest defence.

Reverend Alan Storey, a representative of Western Cape Religious Leaders' Forum, said that he will continue rejecting the bill till it is brought down.

One of the protesters Bronwen Lankers-Byrne said: "There is repression of openess and freedom and I'm willing to give up my life for this," she said.

Right2Know had organised a week-long Camping Out for Openness outside Parliament in Cape Town to draw attention to their demand that members of parliament should "act to defend our democracy" and "heed the voice of millions of South Africans and bring this Bill in line with our Constitution".

The campaign continues until Friday.

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