REVISION OF BILL NEEDED TO PROTECT BVI PRESS FREEDOM: SAYS CPJ

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According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) “British Virgin Islands Governor Augustus Jaspert should reject cybercrime legislation recently approved by the Territory’s legislature, or require revisions to the bill to protect press freedom,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said last month.

CPJ points out that “Section 14B of the bill criminalizes “electronic defamation,” defined as using a computer to defame someone, with penalties of up to three years in prison and fines up to $100,000. Section 14A criminalizes using a computer to send “grossly offensive” or “menacing” messages “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience,” and imposes fines of up to $500,000 and jail terms of up to 14 years.”

CPJ website points out that “The British Virgin Islands’ legislators have passed a bill criminalizing free speech, and journalists will likely be among its first victims if it is signed into law.” This is according to CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Governor Augustus Jaspert should reject the bill and send it back to the House of Assembly so members can ensure that it protects free expression. Criminal defamation has no place in a democracy.”

“Maria Mays, head of policy for the British Virgin Islands’ Governor’s office, told CPJ via email that the Governor “is aware that there have been some concerns raised about [the bill]and he has written to the Premier about those concerns. She added that the bill is with the Premier Andrew Fahie “to consider how he wishes to move forward.”

A BVI Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act was enacted in 2014 and legislation to amend it was passed on 18 October 2019.

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