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Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's decision to refer the controversial Protection of State Information Bill back to the National Assembly was widely welcomed on Thursday.
The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) said the president's decision was a “victory for social justice”.
“We call on Members of Parliament to seize this opportunity to redeem themselves and redraft the bill to bring it in line with the values of openness and transparency upon which we can ensure an accountable democracy able to deliver the needs of our people.
“Parliament must now take up the baton and remove every draconian measure from the poisonous bill,” R2K said in a statement.
ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani said the ruling party's caucus appreciated the president's views on the bill.
Zuma wants two sections of the bill redrafted, after concluding they will not pass constitutional muster.
One section deals with criminalising the improper classification of state information and provides for prison sentences of five to 15 years, depending on the level of wrongful classification.
The other section stipulates that the written authority of the National Director of Public Prosecutions is needed to institute charges in respect of any crime under the legislation that carries a jail term of five years or more.
Sizani said: “Indeed Parliament must ensure that an appropriate process is instituted to ensure that amendments are accordingly effected.”
“It is important that the laws Parliament pass are of highest quality and are not in conflict with the Constitution.”
The Democratic Alliance also gave its nod to Zuma's decision, but said it would await the full details, which would be published in parliamentary papers.
“Once published, the DA will analyse these details and respond accordingly. The DA has fought hard to ensure that this bill, in its current form, is not signed into law and will continue to do so,” DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said.
One of the biggest opponents of the bill, the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef), was also in agreement with Zuma's decision.
“We agree with the remarks made by the president today 1/8Thursday 3/8 that certain sections of the bill are irrational and unconstitutional,” Sanef said in a statement.
“The bill criminalises the possession and dissemination of classified state information even if such information is in the public interest.”
The forum will continue fighting for the inclusion of a public interest defence “to protect journalists and whistleblowers”.
A few hours after Zuma's announcement, National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu said party whips would be consulting on the establishment of an ad hoc committee to consider Zuma's reservations.
“Once the committee has been established, the bill together with the president's reservations will be referred to it for consideration and report in terms of the Joint Rules of Parliament,” Sisulu said.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele also weighed in.
“The decision will allow Parliament to give effect to the areas of concern pertaining mainly to typographical errors that affect the meaning and rationality of the bill,” Cwele said in a statement. - Sapa