Thursday, May 12, 2022

No freedom of speech in Vanuatu

Last year, Vanuatu passed a "cyber-libel" law. And predictably, its first targets are those trying to hold the government to account:

A police crackdown in Vanuatu that has seen people arrested for allegedly posting comments on social media speculating politicians were responsible for the country’s current Covid outbreak has raised serious concerns about freedom of speech in the Pacific country.

At least four people on two separate islands have been arrested as part of a major investigation by Vanuatu’s Serious Crime Unit in the last few weeks, including a factory worker, a printer, a business owner, and a Facebook page moderator. They face charges of cyber stalking, cyber slander, and cyber libel and face up to three years in prison and fines of up to three million Vatu (US$25,838).

The charges relate to alleged comments on Facebook claiming that two politicians in the country had breached Covid quarantine protocols, one of which had played a role in the community transmission of the virus.

MPs violating quarantine and so spreading covid among the community is obviously a matter of huge public interest. But the law - or rather, the government - apparently doesn't recognise that, and instead views criticism and calls for accountability as a crime. Which is the sort of shit you'd expect in Putin's Russia, not a Pacific democracy.