ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada– The Grenada government said Monday that it would make the “necessary changes” to the Electronic Crimes Bill after the legislation was criticised by regional and international media groups as curbing free speech on the island.
“I have agreed to make the necessary changes, after having discussions with members of the local and regional media, so that there will be no doubt about the intention of the country,” Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell said.
Earlier, the Paris-based media group, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said it had written to Governor General, Dame Cécile La Grenade, urging her to veto the legislation that critics say would punish the sending of “offensive” electronic communication with up to one year in prison.
“We do not dispute the principle of this law or some of its provisions. The Internet should not escape the authority of the law altogether and we believe that it is perfectly legitimate to sanction such crimes and offences as the theft of documents or data, online identity theft or, even more serious, child pornography,” RWB general secretary Christophe Deloire wrote in the letter.
The Vienna –based International Pres Institute (IPI) and the Association of Caribbean MediaWokers (ACM) had also expressed expressing concern over the legislation.
The Electronic Crimes Act had been withdrawn in early July after IPI and other groups had expressed concern about a potential chilling effect on free speech in Grenada.
But last month, the government, which controls all 15-seats in the elected House of Assembly and 10 of the 13 seats in the Senate, passed the legislation after holding a national consultation on the matter.
The legislation covers information that is “grossly offensive” or that is known to be false but is reproduced in order to cause “annoyance,” “insult”, and “ill will,” among others.
It defines electronic stalking as “intimidating, coercing, or annoying another person using an electronic system” with offenders risking three years in jail.
Mitchell, speaking at a public forum in rural St Andrew’s insisted also that “criminal libel has gone and is not coming back,” Dr Mitchell said.
ACM president Wesley Gibbings had called the section “a contravention of the principle and guarantee of free expression”, but Prime Minister Mitchell said that was never the intention of his government.
“You don’t have to worry, we will deal with that appropriately. We have no intention of limiting free speech or any types of comments. That was never the intention of the act, and if that gives that impression we will deal with it,” Mitchell said.
IPI said also that “laws criminalizing insult are superfluous in an open society” and Mitchell’s Senior Advisor on Communications, Hamlet Mark, said the prime minister had spoken to him recently about “some of the genuine concerns raised.
“The Prime Minister was absolutely clear in that meeting about the tone he wants to set, and the direction in which he wants to go, and he will personally lead the charge for a possible amendment when parliament resumes after the current break.
“Remember the Electronic Crimes Bill has been widely praised, but there is this one section that in the drafting, could be be less ambiguous and less threatening, and the absolute commitment is there to deal with that,” Mark said.
“I have conveyed to my colleagues in the media at home and abroad, the commitment of this government; and particularly that of the Prime Minister, and based on the legislative timetable, this issue will be adjusted before the end of the year,” Mark added.