Free Press

Press-Muzzling Bill Passed by South Africa's Parliament

Threatens journalists with espionage charges


South Africa's parliament has voted in favour of a fiercely contested secrecy bill which critics say will muzzle the media and provide cover for government corruption.

The Protection of State Information Bill, which would replace apartheid-era legislation on classified information and espionage, passed with 189 votes in favour to 74 against, with one abstention.

The minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, told Parliament the bill would "strengthen democracy while balancing transparency and protecting our national security and national interests".

"There is no one who can hide corruption through this act," he said, adding that the revised bill provided whistleblowers even more protection.

Under the Bill, espionage-related cases carry a punishment of up to 25 years in jail, and holding or disclosing classified material carries a maximum of five years' imprisonment.

The Bill has met fierce opposition from the media, rights groups and the opposition, which fear it will be used to persecute whistle blowers and stifle press freedom in country where the media regularly uncover government corruption and wasteful spending.