The Democratic Republican Party vehemently condemns Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ recent attempt to justify the illegal, anti-free speech components of his government’s Cybercrime Act 2016, while commenting on the recent saga involving Vincentian former Caribbean Next Top Model contestant Ms. Yugge Farrell.
Having listened to the Prime Minister’s comments in his call to WEFM radio on Wednesday and Thursday 10th and 11th January, the DRP decries Gonsalves’ comments as irresponsible, potentially prejudicial to the matter of Ms. Farrell’s case and a wicked attempt to vindicate his thirst for usage of criminal libel laws through the Cybercrime Act 2016. The public must consider the following:
- Farrell’s matter of being charged for abusive language is ongoing before the court and has not been ruled on or decided by the court. She has not been tried and there is no verdict. This charge is also not under the Cybercrime Act 2016.
- We are not aware that any charges have been brought against MS. Farrell under any section of the Cybercrime Act 2016. Ms. Farrell has not appeared before the court on any criminal cybercrime charge, has not been tried and there has been no verdict. What we have read in media report by journalist Lyf Compton– “Fashion Model a person of Interest in defamatory Instagram post-police”– dated around August, 2017, is that she has been under investigation for alleged possible breach of the Cybercrime law. Therefore, when asked by radio talk show host on WEFM about cybercrimes, the Prime Minister’s comments claiming that Ms. Farrell’s matter shows the need for the Cybercrime law suggests already that Ms. Farrell is deemed guilty of its breach. These comments coming from him as Prime Minister can be highly prejudicial and ought not to have been made by the head of government, if he is so interested in the justice process.
- Prime Minister Gonsalves said, “When somebody goes in the media…in cyberspace and say…somebody kill, somebody rape, somebody defraud, this person is a homosexual, that person is engaged with somebody in homosexual act, this person is a whore…issue threats…I will kill so and so…you know all of these things they have to be regulated…and the existing laws could capture some of it and that is why you need a specific cybercrime bill.” The DRP maintains that the crimes and civil wrongs listed by the Prime Minister in his comments are already captured and can be addressed using current criminal code and civil defamation laws and therefore do not justify a need for cybercrime legislation. Under the Cybercrime Act 2016, section 18–Libel by Electronic Communication–, a person found guilty of this section may pay up to EC$50,000 in fine or spend 2 years in prison or both.
This imprisonment by the state for speech is never ideal in democratic societies which preach protection of free speech against Government’s encroachment. Yet it is the thirst to see individuals jailed for speech which has driven Gonsalves’ government to insist on criminalizing online libel, despite the fact that criminal defamation laws have been in disuse for more than 70 years on our criminal code books. It is an archaic and backward inheritance form colonial times from the days of Kings and Queens who ruled tyrannically with no respect for the inalienable rights and freedoms of mankind.
- The Cybercrime Act 2016 is illegal in as far as it contains sections which are so badly drafted that they will have the effect of CRIMINALIZING TRUTH. Section 17-Cyberbullying offence provides for a penalty of EC$100,000 in fine or 2 years in prison or both (notwithstanding some differences outlined between cyberbullying a child, disabled etc. and an adult). It speaks of publishing information which “…causes a person to feel frightened, intimidated, distressed…causes harm to the health or reputation of the person”. The ingredients of the offence are a claimant’s subjective feelings and their claim that harm has been suffered to their health or reputation, even when the information published is THE TRUTH, because there is no defence outlined in the law for TRUTH. This law is a dangerous precedence for the state to set in a free society where truth must be allowed to flourish in order to correct immorality and possible state and other corruption. During the select committee meetings I warned it about legislating what I called the Herod principle, using the example of how King Herod had been encouraged into beheading John the Baptist because the latter had exposed his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife.
- The fact that the Prime Minister has so boisterously echoed sentiments for the Cybercrime law at this time of the matter of Ms. Farrell, who from most accounts has made allegations about his son and other ministers of his cabinet, reveals what we have always denounced–that is, that the real purpose of this law seems to be to protect the interest of state officials and indeed the head of state. No similar comments were made by him when potentially defamatory statements were made of one journalist here– Mr. Kenton Chance–, as well as of the DRP’s political leader Anesia Baptiste. Are the Cybercrime law and justice only for a special elite? During the Cybercrime Bill debates, I cited the following from the International Press Institute’s Training manual for Journalists: “The danger with criminal defamation – and one of the many reasons why defamation should be a purely civil matter – is that the involvement of the state in prosecuting alleged defamers shifts the matter very quickly into the punishment of dissent. At the least it gives additional and excessive protection to officials and government.” Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1577 (2007), Towards the Decriminalization of Defamation.
- As for the statement from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) on this matter, it appears as if they are now a Government’s rights association.
- From the accounts considered, it is evident to me that Ms. Yugge Farrell is ultimately more in need of moral and spiritual analysis and help, more than any psychological analysis can benefit her.
Democratic Republican Party (DRP)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines