February 1, 2023

‘Cybercrime Bill will stifle free expression’

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Dr Ralph GonsalvesFrom Jamaica Observer

Regional, international groups register disappointment at passage of legislation by St Vincent

GONSALVES… says he is responsible to the Parliament rather than the media organisations (Arlene Martin – Wilkins)

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — Regional and international media organisations have expressed their disappointment that the St Vincent and the Grenadines Parliament had given the green light to a Cybercrime Bill that they say would stifle free expression.

Parliament on Friday approved of the legislation that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said is good for the island.

Earlier, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders expressed reservations about the legislation and had written to Prime Minister Gonsalves urging that amendments be made.

But Gonsalves said their comments, some of which were similar, were also submitted to the Special Select Committee, and that while he has taken their submissions into account, he is responsible to the Parliament rather than these organisations.

In a joint statement late Friday, the four media organisations said they “are deeply concerned” by the passage of the legislation, reiterating that “several provisions of this Bill pose a serious threat to freedom of the press, the free flow of online information, and public debate.

“Defamation in print, written and broadcast media is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment under St Vincent’s penal code, pre-dating the adoption of the Cybercrime Law, but the new legislation extends criminal defamation to online content.

“In addition to broadening criminal defamation to include online expression, the law also introduces worryingly vague and subjective definitions of cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying, both of which are punishable by imprisonment,” they added.

The organisations said the negative value and chilling effect that criminal defamation places on freedom of expression and of the press have been well noted at the local, regional and international level, and states have been repeatedly called on to abolish criminal defamation laws.

“The issue of criminal defamation has particular importance in the Caribbean, where a similar law was adopted in Grenada in 2013 and subsequently amended after international outcry. Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana are currently considering similar legislation now under critical review by national, regional, and international stakeholders,” they said.

The organisations added that passage of the Bill to strengthen criminal defamation laws and stifle online dissent and discussion could reverse the positive legislative trend in the Caribbean and serve as a negative example for St Vincent’s regional neighbours.

“It is therefore our view that the law, as adopted, must be revised and criminal defamation must be abolished, and we urge the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines to do so as soon as possible,” the four media organisations added.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, who had urged that economic matters take priority over the legislation debate in Parliament, said as a legislator of more than 18 years the Opposition has always had difficulties with matters of discrimination and victimisation among other issues and as a result, certain attitude had developed in the country where people just wanted to keep their mouths shut and not get involved in many of the activities in the country.

The Opposition legislator was not present in Parliament when the Bill was passed.

For more on this story go to: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Cybercrime-Bill-will-stifle-free-expression-_70684

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