On February 11, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and communications minister Khumbudzo Nthsavheni signed a proclamation enacting the Internet Censorship Act of 2019. The law gives extensive censorship power to the Film and Publications Board (FPB).
According to local news, media and civil groups only became aware of it after the FBP announced a press conference on March 3. The publication of the proclamation was also delayed after the government's Gazette went offline.
Signed into law in 2019, the Film and Publications Amendment Act (FPA), dubbed the "internet censorship bill" by the opposition, causes concern from the media and freedom of speech advocacy groups. The FPA bill was intended to "protect children from disturbing and harmful content" and "regulate the online distribution of content."
After being signed into law in 2019, the implementation was delayed for almost three years to allow the FBP to prepare for "certain critical regulatory exercises."
Mashilo Boloka, acting chief executive of the FPB, said his agency is already prepared to implement the recently activated law. We will "streamline the internal functions to elevate the mandate," Booka said.
However, fear that the new law will be misused persists.
Dominic Cull, the founder of Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, a legal advisory firm specializing in telecommunications law, said that the bill is "extremely badly written." "If I upload something which someone else finds objectionable, and they think it hates speech, they will be able to complain to the FPB," Cull added.
South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), vows to push back the law. The DA also said they were surprised by the announcement.
Dean Kruger, the founder of Atheist Republic South Africa Consulate (ARSAC), fears that the law will be used against secular online content. In ARSAC’s youtube channel, Kruger challenged the new law’s logistical undertaking, making it "unenforceable given South Africa's capabilities."
In an interview with Atheist Republic’s News Team, Kruger further explained that the new law’s objectives “sounds good in principle.” “But the troubling aspect of the act is the vague definition of what amounts to hate speech,” he added.
When it comes to atheists’ well-being in South Africa, Kruger said they acknowledge the limitations to their constitutional rights for freedom of expression. “We understand this restriction and have been especially aware of directing our criticism of religion at the religions, per se, and not the followers of any religion,” he explained.
Update: The correct spelling for the founder of AR South Africa is Dean Kruger.