In its current form, the Secrecy Bill recommends excessive penalties for those who are “in possession” of documents that the state security cluster have determined to contain “state secrets”. The definition of such secrets is wide and imprecise.
The Bill offers no possibility that journalists or anyone caught with such “secret documents” can offer a “public interest” defence. In other words, even if the secret documents reveal, for example, an abuse of public funds, the person caught with them will not be able to defend themselves by saying that it is in the public interest that such information gets published. Many countries throughout the world have state security laws, but allow whistle-blowers to claim public interest as their defence.
The Bill “will severely limit civil society and the media’s ability to expose corruption and mismanagement in government and elsewhere”, according to a range of civil society organisations.
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