Lawmakers say the Protection of State Information Bill will safeguard state secrets.
But with penalties of up to 25 years in jail for revealing classified information, critics say it lacks essential protections for whistleblowers and those who seek to expose corruption.
"Despite substantial improvements to the secrecy bill, whistleblowers and journalists who expose corruption and other issues of public interest could still find themselves in prison," said Cameron Jacobs, South Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Constitutional Court should decide whether the current version undermines basic rights protected by the constitution."
The bill was passed on Thursday by 189 votes to 74, with one abstention in the National Assembly.
Early drafts were widely condemned by the media, civil society, and opposition parties because of provisions that undermined the right to access information of public interest.
The final bill has been substantially altered during its passage through parliament
"The South African government has legitimate interests in protecting information for national security purposes," Jacobs added. "But these interests need to be appropriately balanced to ensure that the law doesn't violate South Africans' access to crucial information in the public interest, nor penalise those who make this crucial information available."
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