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Sudhakar: Freedom Of Expression Intact

Sudhakar: Freedom Of Expression Intact
Jope Volavola Tarai made oral submissions on the Online Safety Bill before the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights on March 28, 2018. Photo: Parliament of Fiji
March 31
11:00 2018

The 2013 Fiji Constitution ensures the protection of freedom of expression, which is available to everyone.

That’s the response from the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, Ashneel Sudhakar, to a question raised during a submission on Wednesday.

Jope Volavola Tarai, who is a teaching as­sistant at the University of the South Pa­cific’s (USP) Faculty of Business and Eco­nomics, had asked Mr Sudhakar if a person would be held accountable should they open­ly disagree with the Prime Minister’s social network account.

Mr Tarai is a teaching assistant at the Uni­versity of the South Pacific’s (USP) Faculty of Business and Economics.

“On record Mr Chairman, if someone were to openly disagree with the Prime Minister’s twitter account and directly question his statements especially in the last couple of days and leading up to elections, would they be held to any form of laws?”

Mr Sudhakar said they would not, adding that the definition of harm was stipulated in the Bill.

“However, while everyone has freedom of expression you cannot just go around swear­ing at other people,” Mr Sudhakar said.

Mr Tarai then suggested that an amend­ment be made in the Bill to include specific principles that directly outline the protec­tion of speech and sentiments that politi­cally disagree with any government so that it was not used against them.

He said political disagreements was not something that was guaranteed and was a grey area that, “everybody tends to walk around or tap dance around.”

He said there was a need to acknowledge the underlying context of Fiji’s political and media landscape of the last decade.

He also said the Bill needed a clause that as­serted and acknowledged the need to protect responsible free speech (Digital).

“In other words it needs an assurance that it will not undermine responsible free speech in the pursuit of online safety,” Mr Tarai said.

“The Bill needs clear guiding principles to equally protect responsible free speech, as it also claims to protect Fijians against irre­sponsible free speech.”

“In this regard the act of resisting the state agenda, responsibly as a digital citizen of this country must be protected.”

He also recommended that the Cyber Crime Unit be expanded to carry out the functions of the proposed Online Safety Commission.

Mr Tarai also submitted that more time be given for wider consultation on the Bill.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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