Could anti-terrorism bill be used against anti-government lobby groups?

Philp Rosenthal, ChristianView Network

TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) Summary

This week, we got good news, but a new concern. Good news that Parliament has listened to our concerns about the Anti-Money Laundering bill and plans to take out the requirement for all non-profits to register, that would have made most South African non-profits illegal. This should give us encouragement to keep speaking up. However, a new concern is that a number of non-profit organisations are concerned that proposals to change an Anti-Terrorism law being rushed through could allow it to be abused against groups opposing the government. Watch the video below.

Please email Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, MP at POCDATARAamendmentbill@parliament.gov.za to ask for an extension of time.

Full report — Bill needs more time

A number of non-profits have raised concerns about a new anti-terrorism bill with the wonderful sounding name Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Bill.

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South Africa doesn’t have a terrorism problem at present and so it is not clear why the police need more powers to investigate organisations. The wording of the bill is crazy complicated, but the concern is that in that complexity, someone working for the government can find an excuse to bully controversial organisations.

We give two examples of how supporters of our organisation, ChristianView Network, have been falsely accused and harassed by the state and may be again in future.

Lack of notification or time to consider bill
We were only notified of the bill at a late stage, and without information on the deadline, that did not afford us an opportunity to complete detailed legal analysis of the bill.

What we can say from initial study of the bill is that we find the detailed legal analysis in the Afriforum submission to contain serious and plausible concerns relating to the over-breadth of definitions and the expansion of police powers. Dear South Africa has also raised a more popular objection to the bill.

At the time, we do recognise the need for the state to act against real terrorist organisations. In the time allowed from when were notified of this, we were not able to adequately legally assess these ourselves.

To add substance to this concern we give two examples of abuse of state power: Silencing, unfounded allegations and threats of state investigation against pro-life organisations At the parliamentary hearings on the Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill, on May 7 and 8 2002, the chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health, James Ngculu, excluded pro-life organisations which (included our own from making submissions), while only allowing abortion advocate organisations to make oral submissions.

At this hearing, pro-life representatives denied the opportunity to speak, thus sat as observers with tape over their mouths holding placards protesting their silencing. Their argument was that the voiceless unborn were unable to speak for themselves, and now those speaking for them were also being silenced.

In a fit of anger, Ngculu tore up the posters, manhandled an elderly pro-lifer, and ordered the pro-life observers evicted from Parliament by security, made serious slanderous, unfounded allegations against them, as if they were an unlawful threat to the state, and threatened the pro-life groups with investigation by the National Intelligence Service.

Even when challenged by the media, Ngculu was unapologetic and no disciplinary action was taken against him by Parliament or his political party and he remained chair of that committee for some time.

Another parliamentarian attempted, unsuccessfully, to mediate the situation, and the pro-life representatives were evicted. The plausibility of this threat is strengthened by the finding that Ngulu was a former founder of Umkhonto We Sizwe military intelligence, and plausibly had connections in the post-apartheid NIS, through which he may carry out his threats.

We then consulted with other advocacy groups, who informed us they had reason to believe from interference with their mail and computer systems they were being monitored and believed we certainly were also being monitored by the NIS.

A Member of Parliament in the ruling party on this health committee who raised mildly awkward questions was removed from the committee for a period of time, until he returned quiet, subdued and no longer questioning the party line.

When we argued that members of Parliament should be allowed to vote on the abortion issue according to their consciences, Ncgulu publicly opposed us saying that he had never heard of such a thing in his life. The concern is that should a person like James Ncgulu gain a position of power in the executive such as the police or national intelligence service, it is plausible that he may not only threaten, but practically abuse a broad definition of terrorism and police investigative powers to harass and intimidate peaceful non-profit organisations or anyone else he disagreed with.

It is submitted that, ironically, constitutional democracy is not threatened by pro-life organisations, but it is threatened by state authority abuse.

Monitoring and harassment of peaceful anti-apartheid pastor by security police
Further, an older member of our organisation, promoting non-racism by his actions and words, was continuously monitored his whole adult life by the apartheid security police, including mail tampering, visits by spies posing as supporters, offers of bribes to toe the state line, threats, etc.

When he laid a criminal charge against the police of mail tampering, they admitted to it, disclosed their massive dossier of information on every aspect of his life, interrogated him and attempted to recruit him as a police informer. He flatly refused but was intimidated to drop his criminal charge against the police for mail tampering.

This simply because of his commitment to non-racism, without any involvement or advocacy of violence. It is thus more than plausible that the state may again abuse authority against non-violent non profit organisations that disagree with government policy.

Extension of time needed
These two examples of power abuse warrant serious legal scrutiny of this bill. We see no urgency to amend the bill and request a substantial extension of time to assess the concerns raised by AFriforum and Dear South Africa.

Please email Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, MP at POCDATARAamendmentbill@parliament.gov.za and ask for a substantial extension of time on this bill.

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