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Margie Orford Fears “Spooks Have Free Rein” Under Secrecy Bill

The Mail & Guardian has compiled a special report on the Protection of State Information Bill, the passing of which has brought issues concerning human rights and democracy into sharp focus. One of the articles featured in this special report is a reflection by SA PEN executive vice-president, Margie Orford, who describes the bill as the “polar opposite” of “such democratic principles as freedom and openness” that South Africa claims to hold dear:

During this week’s Black Tuesday protest outside Parliament, activist Zackie Achmat lowered the South African flag to half-mast. A policeman with a roll of crime-scene tape in his hand stepped forward as Achmat was about to lower the second flag. To the crowd’s chant of “Secrecy’s for skelms! We have the right to know!”, the policeman stopped Achmat and proceeded to wrap the black and yellow tape — nature’s danger colours — around the locked gates.

An emblematic act: inside the shuttered houses of Parliament, the Protection of State Information Bill (or secrecy Bill) was being passed by a well-whipped majority.

Earlier this year, South African PEN hosted a reading to honour Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese writer and chair of Independent Chinese PEN. We gathered about a dozen writers who read from their work. All of them had been incarcerated by the apartheid government for what they said and wrote, for the information they revealed about the injustices perpetrated by the state on its people. It was a moving event because it was a chilling reminder of just how recently South Africa was imprisoning its writers and others who spoke truth to power.


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