Reject info bill, says Asmal

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

ANC veteran Kader Asmal has died. Photo: Damaris Helwig

As President Jacob Zuma defended the Protection of Information Bill yesterday, saying it was “without malicious intent”, ANC veteran Kader Asmal warned that it was “fatally flawed” and called on South Africans to reject it.

Asmal’s hard-hitting critique of the controversial draft legislation in a letter to the Right2Know campaign was released yesterday while Zuma was in Parliament, responding to the debate on the presidency’s budget vote.

Zuma said the bill – currently the focus of a broad civil society campaign to have it substantially redrafted – was intended to “help us establish the practice and principles of handling information”.

“All nation states have similar legislation – even the oldest democracies,” Zuma said.

But Asmal rejected the bill in its entirety and urged all South Africans to join him in opposition.

Asmal said he had up until now refrained from publicly commenting on the bill, because he felt that the ad hoc committee processing it would have been persuaded by the “weight of opposition of this measure, to take this appalling measure back to the drawing board” and given that the bill proposed such “wide-ranging changes to the present law with the most severe penalties I have known, that the relevant ministers should have felt it necessary either to defend the bill or to place amendments”.

“Since this has not happened, my conscience will not let my silence be misunderstood. I ask all South Africans to join me in rejecting this measure in its entirety,” Asmal said.

The bill, he said, was “so deeply flawed” that tinkering with its preamble or accepting a minor change here or there would not alter its fundamental nature – that it did not pay sufficient attention to the nature of freedom of expression.

He advised the ruling party that there would be “no shame” in withdrawing the bill to “go back to the drawing board” and warned that if it were passed, civil society would “deservedly” ask for the “maximum public support to oppose the bill in other ways”.

He pointed to the decision by the Thabo Mbeki administration to withdraw the Courts Bill, saying it showed “a measure of self-confidence to do the right thing in a right way”.

“This is lacking at present,” said the former senior ANC national executive committee member. “My appeal, as a loyal member of the ANC who played some role in the drafting of this section in the internal debates in the ANC, is to the government to withdraw the bill – and to set up an independent and non-party political committee to draw up legislation that rightly emphasises the right of the state to protect legitimate state secrets, with a narrow ambit as to who will be qualified to do so and the onus on those who purport to demand such a classification.”

Asmal resigned from Parliament in 2008 – shortly after Mbeki was recalled and replaced by Zuma during the ANC’s Polokwane elective conference – after 14 years on the ruling party benches.

“My fear or anxiety is that if the bill is forced through the ad hoc committee, people whose judgment I trust will lose faith in the democratic process,” said Asmal.

The constitution was clear in that Section 19 embraced the right of freedom of the press and other media. It went further by taking into account recent developments in that it guaranteed freedom to receive or share information or ideas, said the former education minister.

It was “unsatisfactory” to expect the Constitutional Court to do the work that Parliament should be doing.

The bill, which imposes minimum prison sentences for being in possession of and publishing classified information, is widely expected to be heading for constitutional challenge. “I feel that the executive has not given sufficient attention to the constitutional provisions and the way that the limitation of this right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society,” said Asmal.

Cosatu recently asked for a meeting with the ANC to raise its concerns about the bill, which it wanted to be “fundamentally re-drafted”.

The ANC-dominated drafting committee has called for a two-month extension of its June 24 deadline to finalise the bill, after Cosatu joined the groundswell of opposition to the measure. - Pretoria News


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Fester, wrote

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05:07pm on 16 June 2011
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Mr Asmal is a realist, and honest. I once saw him canvassing for votes, he is a charming and wise man. Anyone can see through the anc ploy, it is so obvious, they dont want the citizens of our country to know what they get up to. The so called " rooting out corruption" is all talk, they want to carry on and keep us in the dark. How can we trust such a government? To make it a crime to be told what they get up to is a sin. You wont go to heaven, you lot.

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Loudly South African, wrote

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01:47pm on 16 June 2011
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But is Prof Asmal prepared to resign from the ANC (which is no longer the ANC he joined but closer to the the Nats he opposed)?

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Scott Larkan, wrote

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01:04pm on 16 June 2011
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This Bill really has no good intent! It provides an excuse for Journalist and other citizens to be treated extremely harshly in what is fast becoming a police state!. Mr Mugabe from across the Limpopo River has a similar law (not that he or his thugs actually abide by any law) allowing ordinary people to be locked up with impunity and their premises and goods to be searched and confiscated! This Bill is also wasting a lot of time and money by bouncing back and forth! The Bill is being forced simplly to cover up corruption and wastage! Stop the wastage! Stop the corruption!

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Anonymous, wrote

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12:51pm on 16 June 2011
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Thank you Mr. Asmal - I total agree with you that this proposed act is draconian to the nth degree and is so far away from true democracy that it could get. This is merely the tip of the iceberg that the government has been planning and setting various small steps in place to be able to force anything upon the South African population. I my opinion there should be a greater relook at a number of smaller acts and laws passed recently that are there to hogtie the population. Democracy is by definition the WILL OF THE PEOPLE who lets the government what they are wanting, and this Act is the one piece of legislation that will de4stroy our fought democracy and turn this country into a one party dictatorship. Please all South Africans have your say and oppose this travesty of justice.

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Anonymous, wrote

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11:21am on 16 June 2011
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Good show Mr Asmal... pity you did not intervene as Minister of Education in the cabinet to the closure of teachers training colleges and nursing colleges. Where was his prudent voice then? Take the Bells away from him!

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Bonzo, wrote

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11:13am on 16 June 2011
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Asmal, Kadrils, COSATU, IDASA, TAC, all against this mindless bill. ANC, you'd better wake up and realise the value of your last intelligent supporters' warnings.

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Gaina, wrote

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11:08am on 16 June 2011
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Of course the bill was proposed with malicious intent, Jacob didn t want us to know what was being stolen, destroyed and corrupted. Good on you Mr Asmal

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John, wrote

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11:05am on 16 June 2011
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Hooray for Mr Asmal. But if it goes through [shades of Ja Baas!] will we see newspaper reports with lots of black lines?

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john jones, wrote

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10:58am on 16 June 2011
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Agreed totally with Mr Asmal. The 'real' problem for the ANC is the media - which presents the people of South Africa and the world with the awful reality that is South Africa under the ANC

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Marion, wrote

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10:57am on 16 June 2011
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Thank you Mr Asmal. Now where does the Human Rights Commission stand on this issue. An exerpt from a pamphlet from the Human Rights Commission reads as follows: "Bad Governments thrive on secrecy - this allows inefficiency, wastefulness and corruption to thrive. Good Governments thrive on openness, the free flow of information and citizens who are informed and able to challenge Government and its institutions. Informed people make for a dynamic democracy!" I feel that SA should hold a referendum on whether this piece of legislation should be passed.

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alice, wrote

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10:55am on 16 June 2011
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Very clear sound judgment... heed his wraning..

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marty, wrote

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10:32am on 16 June 2011
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for once I agree with Mr Asmal - give this man a Bells!

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Anonymous, wrote

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10:26am on 16 June 2011
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license to plunder should the new bill be called. Just a reminder to Z when you will be on the other side of government this bill will bite you in the A* dont forget to day yopu are no1 to morrow ??? see what happened to Mbeki

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aNON, wrote

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10:23am on 16 June 2011
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Kader Asmal i salute you for being a right minded democrat - the union of all like minded democratic south africans of all pursuations is a step closer to realisation. the day is nearing when real SA's will put right what is wrong and we will ALL prosper.

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REALIST, wrote

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10:21am on 16 June 2011
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Agreed, Mr Asmal. I have no doubt that should this Info bill be pushed through, it will be only a matter of time before the Media will face further restrictions. We will then no doubt see it being challenged not at Parliamentary level, but by the man on the street. And clearly another Nelson Mandela will emerge and sacrifice himself for that which he firmly believes in. Mark my words.

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