Jamaica Government Target Freedom of Expression

peter buntingAfter his plaintive lamentation for ‘divine intervention’ to arrest crime woes, and his subsequent interactions with entertainer, Queen Ifrika, National Security Minister Peter Bunting has hit another discordant chord that cannot, in any way, shape or form, harmonise with the melody of well-thinking Jamaicans.

At Tuesday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, Bunting sounded a note that appeared to be blatantly at variance with the tone of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that guarantees, among other things, the right to freedom of expression.

The minister’s dissonance emerged as he brought proposed legislation to Parliament to cripple criminal organisations, but on the face of it, seeks to muzzle hard-hitting social commentaries in music that, all too frequently, target politicians.

It is an open secret that organs of the State, such as the law enforcement arm and the Parliament, frequently perceived to be at variance with the laws of the land and basic ethical standards that their members are sworn to uphold, are usually the artistic targets of creative and obnoxious deejays and reggae artistes.

EVIDENT DISHARMONY

The disharmony emerging out of Bunting’s bill is already evident in a query raised by a member of the fraternity. Does this move constitute retaliation by attempting to ‘kill’ the lyrical character of the indigenous genre that is dancehall music?

Cited as the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act, the bill “makes provisions for the disruption of criminal organisations and related matters”.

Its relevance lies, allegedly, in the observation that “existing laws have failed to adequately disrupt, suppress or otherwise deal with organised crime and the activities of criminal organisations effectively”.

And so, Bunting’s bill argues that “the activities of criminal organisations present a danger to public order and public safety and the economic stability of Jamaica”.

The proposed legislation defines a criminal organisation as any gang, group or alliance, group, network or similar arrangements among three or more persons, whether formally or informally organised.

This begs yet another question: Is this an attempt to quash groups of entertainers who are springing up left, right and centre as young artistes attempt to make headway on the tailcoat of more accomplished partners?

Having spoken to what it characterises as the “pervasive presence of criminal organisations in many communities”, the bill seeks to “restore a sense of security in the Jamaican society”. It was within this context that Bunting’s proposal presumably sought to make a dubious nexus to tough-talking musicians.

Part Two of the bill highlights offences for the disruption and suppression of criminal activities.

Subsection 15 (1) states: “A person shall not use a common name or identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, colour or style of dress, or graffiti, or produce, record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organisation.”

It is left to be seen how enforceable this provision will be in practice. Will the ambit or mandate of the Broadcasting Commission be broadened to vet the lyrics of each singer, rapper or deejay?

COLLISION COURSE

More fundamentally, the provision of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom appears to be under attack. In seeking to muzzle hard-hitting social commentators, the bill appears to be on a collision course with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 20ll which explicitly states that: “Parliament shall pass no law and no organ of the State shall take any action which abrogates, abridges or infringes those rights.”

Some of the rights being threatened are:

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, belief and observance of political doctrines

The right to freedom of expression

The right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas through any media

The right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which the person has been convicted

This bill perhaps best explains why the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel is so overworked, having to contend with the seeming lack of thought evident in the raw materials that are dispatched to that body to be miraculously fashioned into legalese.