SLUG: 2-304817 SAF/Anti-Terrorism (L)
INTRO: In South Africa, the latest draft of a new anti-terrorism bill has come under fire from human rights and media groups, who say the law could be used to stifle legitimate protest. Nicole Itano reports from Johannesburg about the debate.
TEXT: For more than three years, the South African government has been working to draft a new anti-terrorism law. But government officials may have to go back to work again, after human rights groups severely criticized the draft legislation sent last week to parliament for approval.
Human rights and media groups say that the proposed law does not specifically define terrorism and that it could be used to restrict almost any form of anti-government protest.
Comparing the language of the bill to apartheid-era legislation, they also worry that the law would give too much power to government and law enforcement officials, in violation of South Africa's constitutionally protected right to due process.
The Legal Resources Center, a prominent legal advocacy group, is one of several organizations that have submitted objections to the draft law.
A veteran lawyer and member of the Legal Resources Center, George Bizos, says South Africa's experience during apartheid shows the need for carefully worded legislation.
/// BIZOS ACT ///
The definition of terrorism and terrorist organizations are too general, too vague and incomplete. We, in South Africa, have bitter experience of loosely drafted legislation, because those entrusted with its administration are able to abuse it.
/// END ACT ///
/// OPT /// Although South Africa first began drafting an anti-terrorism law before the September 11th attacks in America, the international focus on terrorism has made more urgent the need for new legislation. South Africa is also dealing with an increased internal threat from white extremists. Twenty-two men are currently on trial in Pretoria for plotting against the government and stockpiling weapons. /// END OPT ///
The new law is intended to bring South Africa in line with international conventions on terrorism and to clarify the legal framework for fighting terrorism. It not only outlaws terrorism, but also aiding and abetting terrorists.
Media groups fear that, because of the vague language of the draft, police officials could brand journalistic investigation of terrorism as assistance to terrorists. It could also deprive them of legal grounds to protect their sources.
The most recent version of the bill, however, does contain one victory for human rights groups. The draft submitted to parliament no longer allows for detention without trial.
The government has not yet made any official statement about the fate of the bill, which groups like the Legal Resources Center believe need to be entirely rewritten.
Before becoming law, the anti-terrorism bill must be approved by the full house and signed by the president. But with so many parties still discontented, the bill is not likely to become law anytime soon. (SIGNED)
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