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Offend someone online in Grenada... go to jail
Published on July 1, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Caribbean News Now contributor

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- The Grenada parliament on Friday passed legislation to punish people with hefty fines and/or lengthy jail terms for what is termed "offensive online comments".

However, the expression "offensive" is referred to in vague and broad terms, leading many people, especially journalists, to fear that anything could be regarded as offensive by the New National Party (NNP) government led by Prime Minster Dr Keith Mitchell who, following general elections in February, currently enjoys control of all 15 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Mitchell has a long history of using the law to prosecute and/or otherwise intimidate local and international media and journalists in attempts to suppress unfavourable reporting.

Now, according to the new law, complaints about offensive comments would be filed with police. A judge would then decide if the message was offensive. Those found guilty could be fined up to $37,000 or face three years in prison.

Legal Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod
"We have problems when some use the technology to engage in mischief," said Legal Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod. "We have to put structures in place to ensure that persons and, in some cases, companies and characters are not tarnished."

"A person will be able to take that evidence of the posting and use it as evidence in the court," Nimrod added. "People have to act responsibly to others."

Although the law is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, other countries have been talking about policing online social media content.

In April, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson announced that The Bahamas government was working on legislation that will police information posted on the internet.

“I don’t think anyone ever anticipated the impact of social media and how powerful it is,” Maynard-Gibson said.

“Cyberspace isn’t going anywhere, so it’s a 21st century issue and in conjunction [with] jurisdictions around the world we will be bringing in place and we are working on it right now, what our laws need to be, based upon internationally accepted standards. We have to balance freedom of the press with protecting the public,” she added.

Earlier in April, Bahamas Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade warned that the police would press charges against people who post “lewd” or “obscene” pictures on social media websites.

In Grenada, other Caribbean nationals living and working in Grenada have expressed concern over the new law and it is like that regional leaders and media associations will be drawn into the debate.

One regional journalist working in Trinidad has already called upon that country’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to “take a stand for Trinidad and Tobago nationals everywhere” in relation to the “negative impact … of this draconian law” in Grenada.

“This infraction of the Grenada constitution by the Grenada government is an imposition on Grenadians, Trinidad and Tobago nationals and the online community … and a serious infringement on the rights and freedom of speech of a people,” the journalist continued, adding “Usually media associations locally, regionally and internationally take up these fights. But it will most certainly be an unprecedented, refreshing and welcome move to see another government stand with the people of Grenada and the online audience in getting the Grenada government to rethink and review this archaic law.”

Persad-Bissessar was reminded that she recently joined with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) in promising support for freedom of speech for all Trinidad and Tobago nationals, especially in the media.

"The continued presence of criminal defamation as a feature of our legal environment is a slur on claims that our countries thrive in an environment of openness, transparency and freedom. There are warning signs that much more work needs to be done to secure the guarantee of even those freedoms listed in our bills of rights," Wesley Gibbings, ACM president said last year.

The matter of criminal libel has recently been the subject of a push by IPI, the world’s oldest press freedom organisation, to decriminalise defamation throughout the Caribbean.

Ironically, just last November, IPI congratulated Grenada’s then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas on a move to eliminate criminal penalties for defamation under Section 252 of the Criminal Code of Grenada, which established the offence of intentional criminal libel.

“Grenadian journalists will be increasingly empowered to investigate matters of public interest without fear of the need to self censor. This in turn will strengthen transparency, accountability and democracy in Grenada,” IPI executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie said.

“Bravo for a job well done,” McKenzie said.

IPI said it hoped other Caribbean governments would follow the lead set by Grenada to repeal criminal defamation laws, which had been used to prosecute Grenadian journalists, from the island’s Criminal Code.

Thomas also reiterated his commitment to remove seditious libel from the Grenada Criminal Code, an issue that achieved considerable prominence in 1999 following the arrest of broadcast journalist Stanley Charles on a charge of seditious libel.

The police action against Charles came less than a week after two charges of criminal libel were brought against the managing editor of Grenada Today, George Worme, in connection with a letter published by the newspaper accusing Mitchell of bribing voters in the 1999 general election.

Grenada Today was put into liquidation in 2009 as a result of the legal action.

Thomas’s approach to the matter may well have been driven by his own experience in 2004 when, as then leader of the opposition, he was himself threatened with prosecution for criminal libel by the former Mitchell administration.

At that time, the issue of freedom of the press in Grenada had become a matter of great concern to the local media and others and, in June 2004, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote a strongly-worded letter to then Prime Minister Mitchell, calling on him to "desist from any efforts to curtail the work of the press."

The letter said the CPJ was "alarmed by the Grenadian government's recent attempts to intimidate the local media, including legal actions against the press for reporting alleged wrongdoing by you."

The organisation referred to a criminal libel lawsuit in Grenada brought by Mitchell against Miami-based financial newsletter Offshore Alert and its publisher.

Also, in May 2004, Leroy Noel, a Grenadian freelance reporter, was held for questioning about the content of an article that reported on connections between members of the ruling New National Party and people accused of corruption.

Four police officers detained Noel, who was a frequent contributor to our predecessor publication Caribbean Net News, while he was on his way to work at around 6:15 am. Authorities released Noel four hours later without charge.

"The recent actions of intimidation taken by your government are a clear attempt to obstruct Grenadian journalists from doing their work of disseminating information," the CPJ told Mitchell.

In August 2007, Caribbean Net News was named in a writ issued in Grenada by Mitchell, alleging the publication of libelous statements contained in an article written by Lloyd Noel, a former attorney general of Grenada.

In his article, Noel referred to the apparent possibility that Mitchell was a US citizen, as well as a citizen of Grenada. The implication of this at the time, if true, was that Mitchell would likely have been disqualified by the Constitution of Grenada from standing for election as a Member of Parliament.

The assertion that Mitchell was a US citizen first surfaced in 2007 in pleadings filed in a New York court by victims of convicted fraudster Eric Restheiner seeking to recover the sum of US$1 million in cash allegedly paid to Mitchell by Restheiner.

According to Noel, the writ filed by Mitchell was another example of a frequently used ploy in Grenada to prevent parliamentary debate on such issues, given that the Speaker has consistently ruled that any such debate would then be sub judice.

Mitchell’s action was eventually dismissed by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
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This is pure histrionics and sensational journalism. There is no "new law'' in Grenada punishing people for "offensive online comments''. The government proposes wants this and the House of Representatives had a first reading of the Bill and approved it. The Bill must go to the Senate for reading and debate. It only becomes a "new law'' after approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor General. Before reaching that stage, there could be changes to the Bill or it could even be withdrawn altogether. Journalists need to look before they leap and stop trying to kill a fly with an elephant because of political grudges - past or present.


Well here is their first case.

If Grenadians elect what can only be described as scum, you will have to put up with all their wickedness.

When you are in bed with Mainland China, you have to follow their formula for controlling the internet.

If you had any guts, any backbone, you would all voice your opinions on such legislation.

The law as passed relies on the police making a complaint and a single judge to decide if what was written or said is offensive. We all know that many judges today are out of touch with everyday life, in fact many are bordering on being quite stupid.

Now is any of that offensive?


Can someone help me here? Are there not libel and defamation laws in Grenada? Why this new law. Is not aimed at stiffling free speech.

What on earth are these politicians thinking about?

Why are there not concerted efforts to improve the economy and the health systems. Why are there not major efforts to harness the benefits of science and technology? Instead we have a bunch of politicians in the Caribbean engaging in the "easy" things..Yes passing this law was easy.. instead of developing the Caribbean..Let me echo and emphasize..the politicians of the Caribbean are underdeveloping the Caribbean.

Xavier Greenz:

This Caribbean News Now contributor definitely DID NOT READ the proposed laws, DID NOT LISTEN to the parliamentary sitting last Friday and DOES NOT understand how the parliamentary system works. Several Bills went through their first reading in the House of Representatives last week Friday. These include the Electronic Filing Bill 2013, Electronic Transactions Bill 2013, Electronic Crimes Bill 2013,Electronic Transfer of funds Crimes Bill 2013, Electronic Evidence Bill 2013, Interception of Communications Bill 2013. These Bills have not yet been taken through all their stages as yet in the House of Representatives, so how could they have been passed? These Bills have not reached the Senate as yet, so how could they have been passed? The writer says "the expression "offensive" is referred to in vague and broad terms" but provides no proof whatsoever to back up what he or she is saying. Here is an excerpt from the proposed legislation as it relates to offensive messages "A person SHALL NOT knowingly or without lawful excuse or justification send by means of an electronic system or an electronic device (a) information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character (b)information which he or she knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will persistently by making use of such electronic system or a electronic devices; or (c) electronic mail or an electronic message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

For the purpose of this section, the term "electronic mail" or "electronic message" means a message or information created or transmitted or received on an electronic system or electronic device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record which may be transmitted with the message." This is definitely not vague and strange enough the writer never mentioned all the other aspects of the law as it relates to Electronic Crimes eg the proposed outlawing of child pornography etc. Does the writer of this report actually live in Grenada? Does the writer of this report have some hidden agenda? Does the writer of this report know what is the present drive now from the OAS as it relates to cybercrimes?


... WHERE is Helen Grenade WHEN YOU NEED HER ... ?

Helen Grenade:

I am alive and well my friend Steve.Now who controls the Senate? Isn't the Senate controlled by the Mitchell Government? That's right, the Bill will be approved, end of story or is it?

The people of Grenada are disenchanted with the country's winner-take-all parliamentary system that has allowed Mitchell to dominate. It's about time the people of Grenada get organize, take to the streets and make their voices heard loud and clear.

This is an effort that has to be loosely coordinated among all groups in Grenada. I am a bit disappointed by the lukewarm responses. Mitchell is abusing his power of his incumbency, the people are citing the tacit sympathy of the police towards his government. The way forward is unclear.


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