Failure to repeal Section 66(d) of The Telecommunications Law would undermine the government’s reform agenda and “raise serious questions” about its commitment to freedom of expression, human rights groups have warned.
The section, which sets a maximum three-year prison term for anyone found guilty of online defamation, is being reviewed by the government under pressure from journalists, campaigners and rights groups.
At least seventy-one people have been prosecuted under the section of the Telecommunications Law, which was enacted by the previous government in 2013.
Sixty-one human rights groups said in a joint statement today that failure to repeal 66(d) would leave people at risk of imprisonment simply for sharing opinions online, and silence the ability of the public and the media to report on public sector mismanagement, harmful and illegal business practices, and corruption.
They said the vague wording of the law and the fact that anybody can file a complaint has enabled it to be abused.
They also expressed concern that some members of the government have justified maintaining 66(d) by saying it is necessary to combat hate speech.
“However, Section 66(d) has done little to prevent such activity. Instead, it has enabled an environment of intolerance and conflict by allowing anyone who deems a Facebook post ‘offensive’ to sue the author,” it said.
“If the review does not repeal 66(d), the government should at least amend it to ensure that defamation is no longer criminalised. Criminal acts in 66(d), such as ‘extortion’, ‘coercion’, ‘wrongful restraint’ and ‘threats’, should be clearly defined in line with international human rights law, so as to ensure the law is not used to criminalise the peaceful expression of views.”