Monday 21 May, 2018

Chastanet vs Anthony after Facebook video arrest

The arrest of two men in Vieux Fort following the posting of a profanity-filled Facebook video critical of the current administration has led to a back-and-forth exchange between Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and former PM, Kenny Anthony.

Anthony, the Parliamentary Representative for Vieux Fort South, issued a press release condemning the arrest, saying in part, “Saint Lucia has a culture of freedom of expression on all matters, particularly those who express political opinions and that must be protected. Citizens should be free to disagree with the government and to speak out about the neglect and difficulties currently being faced in the country.”

He continued, “This is a very dangerous development with implications to all citizens who use the social media to express their political opinions on issues facing the country,” and encouraged people to donate to a defence fund of the arrested men.

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Chastanet in response told reporters, “I am very happy and heartened by Dr Anthony’s change because when he was in government… and there were some people who apparently made threats against him, one can go back very quickly and see what he said at that time. So the fact that he is now choosing to cherish freedom of the press and particularly from a government that did 361, I’m very, very heartened.”

Chastanet said he had no involvement in the arrest of the men and learned about it only when it was reported in the media.

Anthony responded saying that Freedom House, “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world,” once ranked St Lucia as one of the freest countries in the region where the press is concerned. He said it was the SLP that was responsible for the telecommunications expansion that allowed for the current media landscape.

Anthony said the real issue is what caused the anger in the young men, pointing to unfulfilled promises and categorizing Chastanet as a deceitful and vindictive leader. He said that arrests for a social media video is unprecedented and wondered on whose behalf the police carried it out.

Freedom House, in its 2005 press freedom report during an SLP reign states, “Traditionally, citizens of Saint Lucia have enjoyed a high degree of press freedom. In late 2003, however, the parliament adopted controversial legislation prescribing possible jail terms for anyone publishing false news that harms the public good. Section 361 of the criminal code states: "Every person who willfully publishes a statement, tale, or news that he or she knows is false, that causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest, is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years." Critics of the legislation say the measure is too harsh and endangers media freedom. Furthermore, the government has taken a somewhat more oppositional stance toward the press, reflected in a government lawyer's criticism in May of the media as an institution.

In their 2007 report they stated, “In November 2006, the Parliament repealed Section 361 of the criminal code, which had prescribed imprisonment for those convicted of publishing news that endangered the “public good.” Prime Minister Kenny Anthony admitted that it had been difficult to successfully prosecute cases under the provision since it took effect in early 2005.”