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AG: ‘We have to draw the line between free speech and impunity’

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File photo: Attorney-General George Savvides

A bill aimed at criminalising ‘reprehensible behaviour’ online has been misunderstood as an attempt to stifle free speech, attorney-general George Savvides said on Wednesday.

It targets “threats and obvious fake news,” he underlined.

Speaking to MPs during a House legal affairs committee, Savvides expressed “full respect for freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

The bill in question has been going back and forth between the justice ministry and parliament since 2020 and in its current form “is very narrow in scope.”

He said the bill addresses “threatening behaviour” and other reprehensible conduct which if it had been carried out outside of the internet would be against the law.

“As a state, we have to draw the line between freedom of speech and impunity.”

Savvides underlined this has nothing to do with criticism expressed online, but concerns behaviour that shifts into abusive.

“Every individual has a right to criticism. Hard criticism. It is a right accepted by our courts of law that freedom of speech allows for tough criticism on public officials.

“But swearing and threatening peoples’ lives crosses a line which I believe should be legally regulated.”

Asked whether media were exempt from the bill, Savvides said “there are serious and professional journalists that I do not believe would ever reach the point of being abusive or deliberately publish fake news to fool people.”

He added the bill includes provisions for defence when there is an argument in good faith.

“Any prosecution under these charges will need the agreement of the AG. Individuals cannot take private cases if they are annoyed by people.

 

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