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‘Reprehensible behaviour on internet should be a crime’

savvides
File photo: George Savvides

Attorney-general George Savvides on Monday called on parliament to pass a bill which would criminalise what he called “reprehensible behaviour” on the internet.

Speaking at a lecture at the University of Cyprus, he said “it is unthinkable that some actions and behaviours, which, when done in the real world in public spaces are criminally punishable, are not equally criminal offences when done over the internet.

The bill in question was submitted to parliament in 2020 and would criminalise the posting of written or illustrated messages containing “grossly offensive, obscene, or threatening content”.

Savvides said that in addition, “the posting of a message with false content intended to cause annoyance, harassment, or concern” would also be criminalised were the bill to become law.

This clause is important, he said, as “the ability to use the internet also brings multiple negative effects related to the rapid distribution of fake news, misinformation, and manipulation of the public, as well as the interference with individuals’ privacy.”

On the progress of the bill, he said “I believe that the time has come for parliament to take that brave step and vote for it.”

He then moved onto the matter of freedom of expression, saying it is “very important as it focuses on the individual’s personality and how this develops in one’s participation in public debate and in shaping public opinion.”

He added, “at the same time, it is the tool with which one can criticise public authorities.”

He noted that freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Republic of Cyprus’ constitution, as well as in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), to which every European country except for Russia and Belarus is a signatory.

He said the state “has an obligation to offer effective protective mechanisms for writers and journalists, so as to create a favourable environment for public debate, offering interested parties the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions without fear, even if those opinions oppose the positions of official authorities or of public opinion.”

He then touched on the matter of restrictions relating to legal cases, which assure and enshrine the right to a fear trial.

These restrictions, he said, “aim, on the one hand, to avoid any prejudice or pressure from public opinion towards the parties concerned, and, on the other, to shield the public’s trust in the institutions and the administration of justice.”

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