Sign this statement: Stop South Africa’s Secrecy Bill!

Thousands of people across South Africa have united against the proposed Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) being discussed in Parliament, which threatens to drag South Africa back to apartheid-era secrecy and undermine community struggles for access to information. Despite months of public outcry from a wide spectrum of civil society organisations, political parties and ordinary citizens, MPs of the ruling party seem determined to finalise the Bill by 24 June with many of its draconian provisions intact!

The Right2Know Campaign calls on all those who object to the passing of the Secrecy Bill in its current form to make their collective and individual voices heard now by signing this statement!

A responsive and accountable democracy that can meet the basic needs of our people is built upon transparency and the free flow of information. The gains of South Africans’ struggle for freedom are threatened by the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) currently before Parliament. We accept the need to replace apartheid-era secrecy legislation. However, this Bill extends the veil of secrecy in a manner reminiscent of that same apartheid past.

This Bill fundamentally undermines the struggle for whistleblower protection and access to information. It is one of a number of proposed measures which could have the combined effect of fundamentally undermining the right to access information and the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution.

The Bill will create a society of secrets:

  • Any state agency, government department, even a parastatal and your local municipality, would be able to classify public information as secret. Over 1000 institutions would be granted this power.
  • The definitions of ‘national security’ remain vague and open to abuse. Even ordinary information relating to service delivery can become secret. Officials do not need to provide reasons for making information secret
  • Anyone involved in the ‘unauthorized’ disclosure of classified information can be prosecuted; not just the state official who leaks information.
  • 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 harsh prison sentences for releasing classified information in the public interest; they would spend more time in prison than officials who deliberately conceal public information that should be disclosed. Even the leaking of secret information in the public interest is criminalised.
  • 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.

Our demands: The Constitution demands accountable, open and responsive government, realised among other things through freedom of expression and access to information. Our elected representatives are bound by these Constitutional values and any legislation they pass must comply. Furthermore, we recognise that the Protection of Information Bill is a symptom and symbol of an existing climate of secrecy facing South African communities today: ordinary South Africans struggle to access information that is relevant to their livelihoods. We demand that the Protection of Information Bill – the Secrecy Bill – must reflect the following:

  1. The Bill should apply only to core state bodies in the security sector such as the police, defence and intelligence agencies.
  2. Even then, the Bill’s powers must be limited to strictly-defined national security matters and no more. Officials must give reasons for making information secret.
  3. Do not exempt the intelligence agencies from public scrutiny.
  4. Do not apply penalties for unauthorised disclosure to society at large, only those responsible for keeping secrets.
  5. Do not criminalise whistleblowers and journalists: the Bill must protect those who release classified information if that information is in the public interest.
  6. An independent body appointed by Parliament, and not the Minister of State Security, should be able to review decisions about what may be made secret.

Any law that doesn't meet these demands is unconstitutional and must be scrapped!

To endorse this statement, visit or send your name, email address, phone number to Tinashe Njanji by 13 June 2011: indicating your support for the statement.

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