South Africa gets tougher on dissent

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The South African government's renewal of its two-year-old state of emergency means an even tighter clampdown on dissent, lawyers and activists say. The state of emergency, renewed for another year late last week, continues all the regulations of the past emergency, including detention without trial; suspension of publications seen as a threat to public order; restriction of political organizations; and prohibition against reporting or photographing violence.

In addition, the government has grafted on much tougher press laws, which government critics contend will only further polarize an already deeply divided nation. ``Anxiety among whites will grow because they won't be able to get information,'' says independent parliamentarian Peter Gastrow. ``In the black community, the information network will become more sophisticated, but also more one-sided and radicalized because there will no access to different points of view.''

The state of emergency was imposed in 1986 to curb unrest that ripped apart black areas from 1984-86. In renewing the restrictions, President Botha said the government had achieved considerable success in curtailing violence and unrest. However, a ``notable revolutionary climate'' still exists in South Africa, he said, so that ``the ordinary law of the land is still inadequate to enable the government to ... maintain public order.''

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Under the new restrictions, press agencies and part-time reporters, or stringers, must give the Minister of Home Affairs their particulars and a list of clients. The regulations apparently exclude ``established'' international wire- and television-news services, and are aimed at the myriad ``alternative'' local agencies.

Lauren Jacobson, a media attorney, says that if the minister deems the agency or stringer a threat to the public, he can prevent them from operating. ``Having largely controlled the alternative press, it makes sense that they would go after alternative agencies,'' she says.

In addition, the government has streamlined the process by which it can shut down a newspaper that has already been warned about the content of its articles, Ms. Jacobson explains.

The new restrictions also make it illegal to encourage people to boycott municipal elections.

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