British Virgin Islands

Monday, Oct 26, 2020

Global Watchdog Group Warns Cybercrime Act Targets Free Speech

Global Watchdog Group Warns Cybercrime Act Targets Free Speech

An illegal law that will help government to hide even more corruption is about to be sign by the BVI governor Augustus Jaspert.
After citing concerns about the infringement on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the International Press Institute (IPI}, which is a global network of editors, journalists and media executives is hoping that His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert will not accent to the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act 2019).

If this anti-transparency and pro-slavery act will pass, BVI people will no longer have to obey the law as it will be a pure example of illegal law that express abuse of corrupted power by the government against the whole BVI citizens.

When the legislation was presented to the House of Assembly in August Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie during the presentation of the objects and reasons of the Bill explained that the legislation allows for the penalty for computer and cyber abuse to be significantly increased.

He also announced that the Bill contained stipulations for blogging on local news sites. These stipulations the legislators announced was a necessary deterrent to online bullying in the Territory.

Essentially members on both sides of the aisle agreed with majority of the changes that were proposed in the Act. Most keen on the amendment was Premier Fahie who announced that some of the amendments are expected to be enforced swiftly after the legislation is passed.

However, the IPI announced in a December 3 article that aspects of the legislation which the House of Assembly passed on October 18 is very troubling. The IPI stated that it is concerned that the online criminal defamation provision of the Act “would stifle press freedom.”

Therefore, the organization is calling on Governor Jaspert to not give the legislation its final approval. The IPI said, “The governor should withhold assent on this bill to give the BVI legislature time to revisit these clauses to ensure the proposed amendments are in line with regional and international standards.”

The International Press Institute said that it looked at the legislation and became concerned about two clauses in particular; which it was explained can also affect freedom of expression.

“After reviewing the documents, IPI has raised concerns over two worrying clauses in the law which could have potentially harmful effects on press freedom and freedom of expression, while also leaving the small Caribbean archipelago out of step with its neighbours,” the article stated

Further IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said, “If given final assent, these proposed amendments would send a shiver down the spines of journalists working in the British Virgin Islands”.

He further noted that legislation similar to these are being used to take action against the press in many countries.

“Governments around the world are currently using these kinds of insult and cybercrime laws to prosecute reporters and silence independent media. If the BVI leaves this possibility open to current or future administrations, it has the potential to create a chilling effect on the territory’s journalists,” Prasad added.

The first area of concern for the IPI is Section 14A of the Bill which stipulates that it is a criminal offence to send any electronic message that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or that is sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience”. According to the international organization this part of the Bill can used to target members of the media.

“The bill’s vague wording and broad scope means it would be open to misinterpretation and exploitation by government officials or powerful businessmen seeking to target journalists or commentators because of critical coverage. There is also concern about disproportionately harsh punishments included in the bill,” the article said.

The organization is also concerned about Section 14B of the legislation which criminalizes the use of a computer to defame another person. It was noted that this offence has penalties up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine. In relations to this IPI said, “The amendment effectively extends the country’s existing criminal code on defamation to the digital sphere. While criminal libel exists in the BVI, the law is very rarely enforced.”

His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert has not assented to the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act 2019). During a media briefing on November 1 the Governor was told by a member of the media that aspects of the Act is viewed as a contravention of free speech.

In response to the concern the Governor mentioned that he would look at the Act carefully: “I haven’t yet seen the final version of it as its coming to my desk. With every single Act. I consider it very, very carefully and look at any issue where there are any legal issues at this point. I would look harder at the Act as I do with any other Act,” the Governor declared.
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