The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) on Sunday became the second local organisation to call on the Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party administration to shelve the Cybercrime Bill, which is before Parliament.
“The SVGTU is also concerned with the indecent haste with which the government is seeking to rush this Bill into law,” the union said in a statement.
The union now join the SVG Human Rights Association and a growing list of international and regional organisations that have called for revisions of the bill.
In a statement issued late Sunday, the SVGTU said it calls on the Government “to put a halt on the Cyber Crime Bill 2016 which is currently before our Parliament.
“We have studied the proposal contained in this Bill and are very concerned about many clauses, particularly those that interfere with our freedom of expression as embedded under section 10 of our Country’s Constitution,” the union said in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Wendy Bynoe.
“We join with other concerned citizens and an expanding range of reputable regional and international organisations that have signified concern and raised alarm over clause 16, which they have deemed highly objectionable, as well as many other elements of the bill which infringe upon freedom of speech and, hence, are unjustifiable in a democratic society,” the statement said.
Since the bill was introduced in Parliament two months ago, the International Press Institute, the Centre for Law and Democracy, Reporters Without Borders and the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers have all expressed concerns about sections of the bill which they say impinge on freedom of expression and can have a chilling effect on democracy.
At least two journalists in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have written to the select committee expressing concerns about how the bill could impact the work of the media.
The SVGTU said it fully embraces “efforts to protect the right to free, responsible speech, particularly for our citizens in cyberspace”.
It said that in this regard, it notes and welcomes “those elements of the Bill that provide for the continued outlawing or criminalisation of child pornography, computer related theft, fraud and malicious interference with critical cyber technology and infrastructure.
“However, as afore-mentioned our Union joins the call by other citizens and agencies for the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to completely review and revise all aspects of the Bill that could adversely affect the exercise of free speech, the flow of information and, as a consequence, criminalise harmless online activities.”
The union said it is “disappointed that the Government did not think it prudent to widen its consultation to involve the participation of members of our Union, given the importance of the grouping of citizens who are integrally involved in shaping the minds of our nation’s youth(s).
“We strongly believe that a healthy maturing democracy must introduce laws which do not unnecessarily and disproportionately interfere with our Constitutional rights and freedoms. We also believe that by its very nature the Cybercrime Bills requires more widespread discussion as it touches and concerns a core value of our socio-political development. And, with this view, our Union makes a strong call on the government to rethink its hurried passage of the Cybercrime Bill. An inclusive consultative process and a review of the troubling clauses can only benefit the citizens of our blessed Hairouna,” the union said.
The Government has said that major changes have been made to the bill since it was published some weeks ago and these will be announced when the bill comes up for debate again in Parliament this week.