The South African government is forging ahead with a vote on the Protection of State Information Bill in Parliament today, despite massive opposition.

Critics fear that the flawed bill, which is mean to protect legitimate state secrets, may be used to instead hide instances of wrong-doing and corruption by the state or its officials.

Most disturbing is the lack of a “public interest clause” in the legislation that would allow whistleblowers to disclose classified information if it is of vital interest to the country.

Instead, the bill would punish whistleblowers with up to 25 years in prison, even if they disclose serious crime or corruption. and join the chorus of voices from the media and civil society groups and ordinary citizens in opposing the bill in its current form.

“Many in the gay and lesbian community probably feel that this issue is not of much relevance to them, or that it’s something between the media and the government. But this legislation could prove to be the start of a gradual eroding of the freedoms guaranteed by our democracy,” said Mambaonline editor Luiz De Barros.

On Tuesday, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory criticised the bill, saying that the issue was “crucial for our constitutional democracy”.

It said in a statement that, “From the outset we have sought to ensure that the bill meets standards of constitutionality and aspirations for freedom of information and expression, while at the same time providing protection for legitimate state secrets.

“Much has been achieved, but the bill is not yet at a point where it can be said to have met the above-mentioned standards and aspirations.”

On Monday, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also expressed his opposition to the bill.

“A state is entitled to keep information outside the public domain in instances where publication may jeopardise state security, but if the legal mechanism created to protect state security… prevents criminality from being exposed, the mechanism is patently flawed,” he said.

The bill is expected to be passed this afternoon.

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