The Protection of State Information Bill passed last month by the National Assembly and now awaiting approval by Parliament would make possessing or publishing anything the government feels as "classified" an offense punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Journalists die every day to bring the truth to the world and this is how they are repaid.
African National Congress representative, Jackson Mthembu told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the bill was needed to replace apartheid- era law and safeguard state secrets. He is denying that this is a gag on the media. Mthembu wants the press to strengthen self-regulation to balance better, an individual’s right to dignity, against the media's right to publish. However, this tribunal, answering to parliament is two-thirds ANC and would be tantamount to state control.
Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and the Nelson Mandela Foundation are opposed to the bill. Agus Sudibyo a member of the Press Council and deputy director of the SET Foundation wants the bill withdrawn because the bill specifics are already included in the 2008 Freedom of Information Law, and criticized the punishment included in the bill.
Under the bill, the leak of highly classified material is punishable by four years in prison and 100 million Rupiah in fines ($11,000), while for classified material it is three years and 50 million Rupiah ($6500). For leaking material categorized as restricted, the given punishment is four years in prison and a 1 billion Rupiah fine. Agus pointed out that the punishments were the same for ordinary citizens and for state officials.
What does this bill really do? It certainly cannot protect secrets that are not even defined, for what can be disclosed that are not classified as secret? This is just another way to hide what is done behind closed doors, another way to hold people down and have no regard for human rights.