BY FREDERICO LINKS – Governments and law enforcement and state security actors like their shrouds of secrecy and especially the one that is national security.
On Friday, 12 April 2019, in Namibia at least, this shroud became a lot less protective. This was when the Supreme Court ruled that painting a situation with the brush of national security or invoking it like a magical incantation, which almost what it has become, did not remove a state entity from the reach of the long arm of the law.
The ruling in favour of The Patriot newspaper heralds a new dawn in a sense.
For no longer can politicians and securocrats hide willy-nilly under the national security shroud and pretend they’re invisible. No, the Supreme Court made it clear – the law applies to all and everyone. And thus, in this case, the right to access to information is triumphantly affirmed.
In case you’re not aware of the circumstances of this case, the ruling was with regard to a High Court decision from last year, in a case in which the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) and the government tried to muzzle The Patriot in an attempt to suppress information about resource waste and mismanagement, and even alleged corruption, at the state security agency.
According to the audacious position of the NCIS and government, information related to the activities of the intelligence service was classified and protected.
Judge Harald Geier, however, concluded that national security could not be used to try and hide corrupt and criminal activities, and he stated that “the court was faced with two competing claims – with the two applicants’ case based on statutory law protecting classified information, while the respondents’ case was based on the constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and the freedom of the press”.
Geier eventually, in June 2018, ruled in favour of The Patriot. His ruling was immediately appealed by the NCIS and government in the Supreme Court.
On Friday they lost, again. The ruling sets a healthy precedent, for now law enforcement and state security actors cannot use the national security shroud as they please.
This is a victory for democracy and the rule of law, as well as access to information, as the case essentially revolved around the misuse of public assets, thus the information release was in the public interest.