Freedom of speech took a beating in Parliament on Wednesday when the parliamentary committee dealing with the Protection of State Information Bill gagged a speaker who had been invited to address it.

Social activist Mark Weinberg, director of the Alternative Information & Development Centre, was halted in his tracks by MPs objecting to what they called the “political” and “offensive” content of his remarks.

Weinberg said the controversial bill should be seen against a “rise in conservative authoritarianism” in SA and elsewhere. He noted the sharp increase in the number of social protests in the country since 2004 and suggested these were a response to deepening poverty and inequality.

Governments were responding to this “faltering social cohesion” by -centralising power and “rolling back human rights”, he said.

“The secrecy bill is merely one symptom of a much bigger and problematic effort to centralise power in the security cluster of government,” he added.

ANC MP Grace Boroto interrupted him, complaining that the presentation had nothing to do with the bill.

“I am not prepared to listen any further to what he has to say if this is his line,” she said.

Weinberg criticised the committee for gagging him, saying

preventing him from continuing was “more evidence of the undemocratic culture gripping our government”.

The Star