Law ‘meant to protect politicians’

A retired Barbadian resident overseas believes the proposed Cybercrime Bill is intended to “protect politicians and their friends”.

In his submission on Monday to Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (Standing) on Governance and Policy Matters in the Senate, David Weekes likened the legislation to Thailand’s lese majeste laws which he said “forbids the insult of the monarchy” there.

His view was countered by chairman of the Joint Select Committee, Member of Parliament for St James North Edmund Hinkson, who said the bill was to protect everyone, including from abuse via social media.

Weekes made his contribution to the Joint Select Committee via Zoom as it continued hearings on the Cybercrime Bill, 2024, and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Amendment) Bill, 2024.

He said the Cybercrime Bill sought to address “justifiable issues . . . namely illegal and reprehensible acts that require the enactment of laws to protect the rights of citizens, politicians and such like”.

However, he criticised some cyberbullying-related aspects of the legislation, arguing that the “artful juxtapositioning” of danger, injury and hatred with the words annoyance, inconvenience, embarrassment, insult, humiliation, intimidation and anxiety “will be used by parties who seek to entrap the victims of the republic”.

“Why are these words so purposely being intertwined? Why use danger, injury, hatred with annoyance, embarrassment, insult or inconvenience? No defendant charged under this law will be able to delink those emotive words and will find themselves incapable of decoupling danger and injury from their charges,” he asserted.

Weekes called for the bill to be rescinded and replaced with one “that is much more harmonious of the rights of free speech and free expression of Barbadians and citizens and persons and residents living within the fair country of Barbados”.

Asked by Opposition Leader Ralph Thorne if he thought the legislation “may be tended to offer particular protection to politicians”, Weekes said he “most assuredly do”, comparing it with Thailand’s lese majeste laws.

“Suffice it to say that Thailand’s law is amongst the most strict regulation on free speech in the world, as it relates to that explicit group. The law of defamation currently provides for anyone but I am one of the individuals who particularly believes that this law is for the protection of politicians and their friends,” he stated.

However, Hinkson disagreed, saying “it is always easy for people to say, ‘Boy, politicians passing laws to protect themselves and their friends’.

“It [the bill] could have said public figures because often these days people go online and are abusive to judges. Judges are not politicians, including a chief justice,” the committee chairman said.

“I’ve seen many, many times people on social media abusing people who they may have been in a relationship with a short while ago . . . and they certainly aren’t politicians. I don’t know if they are politicians’ friends.”

Hinkson added: “Politicians are supposed to have friends all around, the constituents are supposed to be their friends. So I don’t know if you are including that, but I don’t believe you are.

“So I think that it is a bit unfair and I would want to totally disagree with you that the nature and object of this bill is to protect politicians, because at all levels, I see people on social media receive social media posts, people in all categories, being cussed and abused and humiliated.”

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