The Editors Forum Eswatini has met with a House of Assembly Portfolio Committee to protest a number of new censorship measures that would be imposed on the media if three new Bills presented to Parliament by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology become law.
At the meeting at the House of Parliament on Thursday 28th October 2020, the Forum was represented by Secretary General Jabu Matsebula and Deputy Chairman Martin Dlamini. It submitted to a House Committee chaired by Member of Parliament (MP) Mfanawenkhosi Dlamini and composed of chairpersons of the Computer Crime And Cybercrime Bill, 2020, The Electronic Communications And Transactions Bill, 2020 and the Data Protection Bill, 2020 that the proposed laws promote censorship. They submitted that the bills create offenses that attract lengthy jail terms and huge fines that can be extended to newspapers and publishers with a chilling effect on free speech, access to information and the media’s effectiveness in promoting transparency and good governance. If approved in their current wording without any regard for free speech, the Forum fears that the laws can be abused to crush the media, intimidate whistleblowers and benefit perpetrators of corruption who will be able to hide evidence of wrong doing in computors.
The COMPUTER CRIME AND CYBERCRIME BILL, 2020 seeks AN ACT to criminalize offences committed against, and through the usage of computer systems and electronic communications networks; to provide for investigation and collection of evidence for computer and network related crimes; to provide for the admission of electronic evidence for such offences, and to provide for incidental matters.
The THE DATA PROTECTION BILL, 2020 seeks AN ACT to provide for the collection, processing, disclosure and protection of personal data; balancing competing values of personal information privacy and sector-specific laws and other related matters.
The ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSACTIONS BILL, 2020 seeks AN ACT to regulate electronic transactions, electronic communications and the use of e-government services and to provide for incidental matters.
The Bills were gazetted in the Government Gazette Extraordinary, No.116, August 19th 2020 and submitted to Parliament with a certificate of urgency. The Minister of Information and Communications Technology said the government is under pressure to create legislation that will align its cyber security laws with international standards.
The proposed laws create offences that on conviction provide for up to 15 years in jail and for fines of up to E15 million ($1million).
The Forum submitted that the law is open for political abuse to intimidate and punish journalists and whistleblowers. The Forum also expressed alarm at provisions of the Bills that assign power to the Eswatini Communications Commission to regulate media content. The Forum Statement to Parliament is below.