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 CNS Story:

SAFRICA-SECRETS Jan-19-2012 (270 words) xxxi

Bill protecting state secrets bad for South Africa, says archbishop

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- South Africa's bill on protecting state secrets could turn the country into a security state, said Cape Town Archbishop Stephen Brislin.

The Protection of State Information Bill, which allows any government agency to apply for classification of information that is "valuable" to the state and criminalizes the possession and distribution of state secrets, "does not serve the interests of the nation and can be used to damage our democracy," Archbishop Brislin said in a Jan. 19 statement.

"We, the Catholic Church in Cape Town, strongly appeal to the National Council of Provinces to amend" the bill "to bring it in line with our constitutional right to freedom of information," he said. The council will hold hearings in Cape Town Jan. 31 on the bill, which was passed by South Africa's national Parliament in November.

Catholics have a "duty to continue opposing this bill," which "does not serve the common good," Archbishop Brislin said, noting that the bill violates the South African Constitution's "commitment to open and transparent government."

The bill allows up to 25 years in jail for those who illegally publish classified information.

It "comprehensively protects the state security agency from public scrutiny because it allows the agency itself to decide what it wishes to be kept secret," Archbishop Brislin said.

As well as "increasing the chance that illegal activities will be hidden in the name of state security," the bill makes no provision for "a public interest defense and for the disclosure of supposedly secret information about which the public has a right to know," he said.

END


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