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South Africa lawmakers approve controversial secrecy bill

The South African National Assembly (NA) [official website] passed a controversial state secrets [JURIST news archive] bill on Tuesday designed to protect state secrets related to national security. The African National Congress (ANC) [party website], which holds a majority in the NA, was responsible for pushing the legislation through by a vote of 229-107. The bill would criminalize the possession and distribution [Reuters report] of information valuable to the state and could impose imprisonment of up to 25 years. The bill has received extensive criticism for being reminiscent of Apartheid [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] legislation and exposing the country to potential corruption. Nobel Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu [BBC profile] has publicly criticized the bill by labeling it insulting to the field of journalism [BBC report] and a step backwards from achieving democracy. The bill must pass through the National Council of Provinces for further consideration [All Africa report] and obtain the signature of the president.

Other nations have also struggled with balancing citizens' rights with the need to protect state secrets. In August, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] invoked the state secrets privilege to block evidence [JURIST report] in a lawsuit against the FBI over its investigation into Muslim mosques. Holder had ordered a review [JURIST report] of all government claims invoking the state secrets privilege in 2009. Last year, the Chinese government revised [JURIST report] its often-criticized state secrets law to require Internet and telecommunications companies to inform on customers who share state secrets.

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