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When Free Speech Isn’t Free Speech in Grenada

By: Ryan Hildebrand - Jul 2, 2013, 2:09 am

When speaking of natural rights, the right of free speech is typically numbered among the foremost of said rights (for example, the 1st Amendment in the US Constitution). A society cannot be free without the ability to communicate in an open manner without fear of retribution. In fact, publications such as the one you are reading now might not be possible without such assurances codified in law.

Of course, there are some reasonable limitations (such as the prototypical “screaming fire in a crowded theater”) on free speech, where one would unnecessarily cause harm, inadvertently or otherwise. However, this is not always the case. Many times, restrictions on such rights are utilized to empower the current regime and keep it in power, sometimes indefinitely.

The advent of public access and development of the internet has even further expanded the ability of individuals and organizations to express their opinions worldwide in a way not even dreamed of by most only a generation or two ago. This has caused friction between individuals and the state apparatus, and the two groups can often be in opposition. As a government often has the upper hand on power, be it legal, physical, or both, the rights of the individual can (and are) often pushed aside.

This brings us to the idyllic Caribbean island nation of Grenada, famous for its production of spices (primarily nutmeg), vacationing, and a small medical university. Their lower house parliament has passed a new law at the behest of the prime minister, Keith Mitchell, who is also of the same party as every member of that legislative branch. Opposition members suppose that this law will be utilized to silence them.

Now, it is one thing to insult someone or lie about them; it is in fact a whole other thing to be critical, yet truthful about someone, particularly public figures. Although an individual should rightly have freedom to privacy, a public figure, by nature, should be regularly critiqued on his public actions which affect the populace at large.

The new law appears vague in writing, only generally stating that “offensive online comments” could lead an individual in Grenada to be charged by police and brought before a judge, who decides on guilt and can fine the individual a hefty sum or a maximum three years in prison.

Upon reading of the Grenadian Constitution, Chapter I, Section 1b, there appears to be “freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association”, except further down in the same chapter, which counters that limitations can be made “…as may be authorized by law…” It is this vagueness which can allow for laws to potentially completely limit free speech at the behest of a few individuals (there are fifteen MPs in the lower house).

This begs the question: When is free speech free speech in Grenada? Whenever the government says it is, in reality making it not free at all.

Ryan Hildebrand Ryan Hildebrand

Dr. Ryan Hildebrand is a college instructor in New Orleans, Louisiana, and co-host of The Neo and Wim Show. You can follow his personal blog, NOLA City Blues, and his Twitter @NOLACityBlues. Read more of his featured PanAm Post column, "Self-Ownership."