PAPHOS mayor Phedonas Phedonos has hit back at the police’s intention to charge him for spreading fake news, saying that it smacks of intimidation.
Police have opened a case against the outspoken mayor in connection with comments he posted on Facebook on November 1, where he accused law enforcement of effectively turning a blind eye to drug trafficking.
His post read: “Based on a recent incident, the police leadership, with its actions and omissions, allows certain drug traffickers to evade the law. In which other country does this happen?”
Police on Thursday confirmed to the Cyprus Mail they are investigating Phedonos for spreading false news, under section 50 (Chapter 154) of the criminal code.
No charges have been filed yet. At any rate the attorney-general would need to sign off on a prosecution.
It’s also understood that police have yet to depose Phedonos.
The mayor put out a statement in response:
“The atempt to define a public statement on a serious social problem as the spreading of false news, should concern every right-thinking person.”
He went on to express surprise that “comments made in public, in good faith, even if critical, should trigger a process by the police to investigate the supposed dissemination of false news.”
Under Section 50 (“Publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public”), persons found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of up to two years in prison, or a fine of €2560, or both.
The section reads: “Any person who publishes in any form false news or information which is likely to undermine the public order or the public’s trust in the state or its organs, or which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace or good order in any way, is guilty of a misdeameanour.”
The accused must demonstrate to the court that the information he or she published was done in good faith.
Section 50 was grandfathered in from the penal code in force during British colonial rule, where the text was somewhat different:
“Any person who publishes or reproduces any statement, rumour or report which he knows or has reason to believe to be false with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or which is calculated to disturb the public peace is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail on Thursday, Phedonos said the section in question clearly pertains to matters of national security, for example during wartime or states of national emergency.
“It’s definitely a stretch to apply this to public remarks that are critical of authorities, such as in my case.”
To his knowledge, to date police in Cyprus have never charged a public figure for spreading false news.
However, authorities have previously prosecuted members of the public under Section 50. In May 2017, a 35-year-old man from Paphos was charged for publishing false news.
He had posted on social media a fake story about a man who was found dead in his car. The post was initially generated on a spoof website, and later appeared on Facebook.