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GBHRA: Daxon case will ‘end criminal libel’ in The Bahamas
By Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBRHA)
Sep 7, 2016 - 7:59:10 PM

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(Statement) The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBRHA) has pledged to aid the legal team of embattled attorney Maria Daxon and prove once and for all that archaic criminal libel laws are unconstitutional and have no place in a modern democracy.

GBRHA president Fred Smith noted that at a time when, around the world, countries are abandoning “tyrannical” anti- free speech laws, The Bahamas seems increasingly to be keeping company with oppressive regimes and brutal dictatorships.

“The case of Maria Daxon highlights a very disturbing trend among our political classes and law enforcement of wanting to silence critics and those who exercise their freedom of expression by means of arrest and imprisonment,” he said.

“Members of the human rights community have repeatedly been threatened with criminal libel charges over their efforts to highlight the many the injustices suffered by ordinary people on a daily basis. Recently, two young men were seized and held for days over a rap song that made fun of political figures and their families.

“Now, an outspoken attorney and former police officer has actually been charged for expressing her opinions about the conduct of senior police officers on live radio. This trend is absolutely terrifying and should frighten each and every person in The Bahamas who values their individual rights and freedoms as guaranteed by our constitution. “

Smith said that while from time to time, people say will things that others find insulting and offensive, there is a fair and just remedy through the civil courts for all those who have been wronged.

“In civilized countries,” he said, “when a person’s reputation is unduly harmed, that individual can sue and if successful, reestablish their good name in the public sphere and win significant damages from the person by whom they feel aggrieved.

“Aside from hate speech, which incites violence or hostility against a particular group in society, no one should be snatched up by the authorities, charged with a criminal offence and imprisoned for speaking their mind. Yet – interestingly – while the police can find the time to go after attorneys who express controversial opinions, several aggressive, intimidating, hate-speech filled rallies targeting local activists have been ignored by the authorities, despite repeated official complaints.”

Smith said the provisions of the Penal Code allowing for criminal libel charges are remnants from a time when tyrants made laws to intimidate citizens into silence and as such, these provisions have no place on our law books today.

“Criminal libel is a clear violation of Articles 15 and 23 of the Bahamas Constitution, which protect freedom of expression. The courts must declare this law null and void. We are more than confident that they will do just that, bringing an end to criminal libel in The Bahamas once and for all.”

Smith said the GBHRA believes that Daxon will be fully vindicated, becoming a local hero of freedom of expression in the process, while her story will serve as an inspiration for those in other countries who are likewise oppressed and silenced.

“Every member of the public should pay careful attention to this case,” Smith added. “Today it is Maria Daxon; tomorrow it could be you. If one person can be prosecuted and persecuted for speaking their mind, it will not be long before anyone who dares to criticize those in authority can be threatened with imprisonment.

“What is happening is utterly barbaric and cannot be allowed to continue.”

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