By Caribbean News Now contributor
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent -- Anesia Baptiste, leader of the Democratic Republican Party (DRP), the newest political party in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), has condemned some sections of a law recently passed in neighbouring Grenada.
The Electronic Crimes Act 2013 was passed by the Senate in Grenada after its final debate on Wednesday afternoon.
In a radio interview with Kem Jones, host of Eagle’s Eye Radio program on Spice Capital Radio on Thursday, Baptiste highlighted her concerns and condemnation of the law as contrary to Grenadians’ inalienable and constitutionally protected freedom of expression and also contrary to the freedom of movement and right to work goals of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) expressed in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Baptiste, who is a former senator in SVG and who just concluded her law degree with honours with the University of London, pointed out that sections 6 and 16 of the Electronic Crimes Act criminalise the sending of electronic communication that may be deemed by a person as “grossly offensive”, causing “insult”, “inconvenience” and that can “annoy”, and makes such offences punishable by a fine of up to EC$100,000 or up to one year in prison or both.
Baptiste argued that the language in the sections lacks legal certainty, which is required for the guarantee of the rule of law.
“Citizens must be able to regulate their conduct with certainty and be protected from arbitrary use of state power,” Baptiste said. “However, there is no interpretation guidance in the law to direct how words such as ‘grossly offensive’, ‘annoy’, ‘insult’ and causing ‘inconvenience’ will be interpreted and this is cause for concern.”
Baptiste further argued that words such as “insult”, “annoy”, “inconvenience” and “offensive” are subjective, since what may be insulting to one person may not be insulting and annoying to another.
“Even the truth can be seen as annoying and insulting by some; even the truth may be seen as offensive and inconvenient by some. Will you send a person to jail for speaking the truth or for speaking their opinion because someone deems it insulting, offensive, causing inconvenience or annoying?” questioned the former senator.
According to Baptiste, lack of interpretation guidance suggests that the innocence or guilt of the individual will be left up to the arbitrary feelings of a judge who will make law in absence of legal certainty in the Act itself. Also, the workings of the law may result in inequality before the law, since person A may be sent to jail for offensive electronic communication if a judge finds the claimant’s offence to be established, whereas person B may go free even though he sent the same information, simply because the person to whom he sent it ignored it or did not find it insulting and worthy of bringing a claim.
Baptiste claimed that such a law will encourage citizens to engage the legal system every time they feel offended at some electronic communication, including the legitimate free expression of opinions on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and other blogs.
“This will be a waste of the court’s time and resources and will foster immaturity and intolerance in the society. It can also be used to instill fear, resulting in self-censorship and it will remove the important exercise of criticism, which is necessary for the evolving of new and better ideas for development,” Baptiste said.
“I’m horrified that legislators in Grenada could pass such sections in a law in a modern, free society,” Baptiste continued, as she reflected also on the negative implications for free movement and right to work goals of the CARICOM treaty.
According to the former senator, articles 45 and 46 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which establishes the Community and includes the CARICOM single market and economy, may be breached by the application scope of the sections in question of the new Grenada law.
“The application of section 3 will touch persons who are ‘carrying out business in Grenada or visiting Grenada or staying in transit in Grenada’ and this could have negative implications for media workers, artistes and other skilled workers, whose right to work in CARICOM is established under article 46 of the Treaty, if such persons simply send electronic communication, while in Grenada, which is deemed to ‘insult’, ‘annoy’ or be ‘grossly offensive’ to another person -- again all subjective feelings for which there is no true baseline,” Baptiste argued.
“The message being sent by Grenada is a bad one and it is setting a bad example where sections 6 and 16 of the Electronic Crimes Act are concerned. CARICOM should also be concerned,” she said.
“One questions the real intention of such sections. It is not the role of governments to pass legislation that criminalises insult, offence, annoyance and causing inconvenience. They have gone too far and such a state of affairs could easily result in state sponsored persecution of legitimate critics from Grenada and CARICOM, of all kinds, whether political or religious, for example,” Baptiste added.
Baptiste, who stressed her political party’s emphasis on government’s role as the protector of inalienable rights and freedoms of all people, stated, “My party -- the Democratic Republican Party -- strongly condemns sections 6 and 16 of Grenada’s Electronic Crimes Act 2013 and calls upon heads of state in CARICOM to condemn it likewise. It is a backward move against the ideals of freedom, equality and justice which we cherish and which are necessary for our development going forward. We are disappointed in the Keith Mitchell administration with these sections and urge him to amend the Act by repealing the notorious portions of sections 6 and 16 accordingly.”