The timing is suspicious, coming after a long period of spin weaved around the incumbent; a marathon of ribbon cutting outings with the simultaneous harping on his projected modernity on subservient radio stations and online platforms. These amendments to our legislation are even more crucial for those in office as the rebuttals from citizens and opposing parties are thwarting their PR coup and rendering them increasingly vulnerable now that they are electioneering.
The ambiguous nature of the changes paves the way for persecution for mere ‘annoyance’ is enough to be dragged in legal hurdles. The dearth of explanation is nothing new on behalf of this government, this was the case for the safe city project; the hefty miracle cure to all our law and order woes was similarly adopted in this “kwi vide” mode without a thorough explanation of how our personal spaces would not be invaded or political opponents not victimised. These modifications serve another objective, that of portraying the son as one with authority. Déjà-vu. A stale act. There was no such thing as a Mauritian Lee Kuan Yew.
The alterations to the Information and Communication Technologies Act which include an increased jail sentence (Section 47(1)), have prompted even the docile lawyers fed by The Family to express their astonishment that such a piece of legislation could be deemed sensible by the Government. The lure of power is great indeed and would blind even the most astute of men. The existing laws offered strong enough protection to those citizens who felt that their names were being brought into disrepute. That the amended Section 46 poses a threat to freedom of expression leaves no doubt but that it would be wrapped in a Judicial and Legal Provisions Bill seems incongruous. This was pointed out by MP Uteem:
“In fact, one has to wonder, why is it that in a Bill, which talks about Judicial and Legal Provisions, be amendment to the Information and Communication Technologies Act? Is it because of the timing? Are we being called upon to debate and vote an amendment, because there have been certain texts and pictures circulating on Facebook, on Internet?”
The very constitutionality of these changes is being questioned as they contravene Article 3(a) of our Supreme Law. The new ploy used by some of those defending these changes is that they are doing so to protect our children from sexual predators online. It shows to what extent some are ready to go to defend their masters. The key question is that of balance as highlighted in the parliament:
“to have a balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy, the right not to be morally harassed or unduly defamed by someone using the internet. We need to strike that balance. But what we have in this Bill, today, Madam Speaker, goes beyond what is necessary to protect. We are criminalising, we are making it an offence today to use a telecommunication device to cause annoyance, humiliation and inconvenience to someone else.”
The potential of misuse by those meant to serve us does exist and we face the risk of seeing our freedom of expression curtailed. The judges in the landmark Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India case aver that “To justify suppression of free speech, there must be a reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practised.” Tacitus deemed that “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” Many Mauritians feel that this is exactly what is happening.