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14 February 2014
Attention: Editors and Reporters
SAHRC concerned about chaos during SONA, calls on investigation into jamming of internet
The South African Human Rights Commission witnessed and observed with great astonishment and disappointment the chaotic events that occurred during the SONA on Thursday, three days after the 25th anniversary of the historic release of the icon of our democracy, Nelson Mandela.
It is not our intention to apportion blame to any or all of the political parties who were involved in the SONA debate which was subsequently marred by chaotic events bordering on the overt threat to our democracy and indeed our most widely revered Constitution.
We equally do not want to descend into the political arena of this country as it subsequently unfolded during the debate which is the prerogative of those who have been elected to serve in those capacities, but we want to come in, as we hereby do, and intervene as that Institution that has been established by the Constitution itself to support constitutional democracy in this country.
The events that occurred during the SONA debate are by now well-known and widely published and reported in all print, electronic and social media in and outside of this Country and it is not our intention to regurgitate such reports.
The disabling of access to the internet in Parliament was and remains a serious violation of the right to receive or impart information or ideas to and from members of the public, and indeed the freedom of the press and other media as encapsulated in our Constitution.
We commend the Presiding officers for having commitment to an urgent investigation into this serious transgression and as a Commission we will closely monitor developments in this regard and make recommendations to respective parties where appropriate.
With regard to the presence of the police and private security personnel within the precinct and Parliamentary chambers, the Commission believes this matter would be best-dealt with within the rules of Parliament and other due legal processes.
Following on this debacle we call on all leaders of Political Parties in this Country to convene an urgent meeting to be facilitated by an independent individual/institution, or a collective of their choice to carefully and soberly reflect on what happened during SONA, and inform the people of this country and indeed the world of what steps they will be taking to address and correct this situation and of course to prevent its recurrence going forward.
Further and in the circumstances, we are of the view that it is in the interest of justice and of this country that this meeting that we are humbly requesting, should precede the SONA debates scheduled to take place on Monday and Tuesday next week and indeed the Question Time due to take place on the 11th of March instant.
We implore all leaders of Political Parties to put the interests of this country before any other interest to avoid anarchy that may follow and destroy our hard earned democracy.
Our democracy and the Constitution are products of negotiation and dialogues which, in our view, were not a once off events but something that should continue to guide us as a fall-back position in times like this.
We remain committed and available to participate in any process that is aimed at strengthening Constitutional Democracy and the promotion of human rights and a culture of human rights in this Country.
Issued by the SA Human Rights Commission