Leader of the Democratic Republican Party of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Anesia Baptiste, condemned some sections of a law recently passed in neighboring CARICOM state Grenada.
The law called the Electronic Crimes Act 2013 was passed in the House of Senate in Grenada after its final debate on the afternoon of Wednesday August 21st, 2013.
In a radio interview with Kem Jones, host of Eagle’s Eye Radio program on Spice Capital Radio on Thursday, August 22nd, Baptiste highlighted her concerns and condemnation of the law as against Grenadians inalienable and constitutionally protected freedom of expression and at the same time contrary to Free movement and right to work goals of CARICOM expressed in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Baptiste, who is a former Senator in the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and who just concluded her Bachelor of Laws degree with honors from the University of London, pointed out that sections 6 and 16 of the law criminalise the sending of electronic communication which may be deemed by a person as “grossly offensive”, causing “insult”, “inconvenience” and that which can “annoy” and make such offences punishable by up to 100,000 EC dollars fine or up to 1 year prison term or both.
Baptiste argued that the language in the sections lack 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 “offense” are subjective since what may be insulting to one person and 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 offense 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 claims 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 in persons 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 opined, as she reflected also on the negative implications for free movement and right to work goals of 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 breeched by the application scope of the notorious sections of the Grenada law.
“The application 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.” Baptiste said
“One questions the real intention of such sections. It is not the role of governments to pass legislation, which criminalises insult, offense 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”, she added.
Baptiste, who stressed her political party’s emphasis on government’s role as the protectorate 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’s administration with these sections and urge him to amend the Act by repealing the notorious portions of sections 6 and 16 accordingly.”