What price press freedom?

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When you were a child and got punished for doing something bad did you ever wish for a world in which wrong was right and right was wrong? Because then, you resentfully imagined, you might not find yourself the target of a beating or scolding so often? Well, I’m beginning to think that I may be living in such a world after all.

There are several reasons for thinking this. The arithmetic of crime and punishment in Jamaica for one. Take the fact that Former Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker was found guilty of breaching the Contractor General Act for which the maximum fine was only J$5,000 (approx US$35) or 14 days in prison.

Let’s add to that the fact that reputed gang leader Tesha Miller was recently fined the maximum penalty of J$100 (under US$1) after pleading guilty to one of two counts of making a false declaration to Jamaican immigration officials. In effect Miller was found guilty of entering Jamaica under a false name. In what I can only assume was sarcasm at the paltry sum involved Parish Judge Sancia Burrell in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court imposed the fine accompanied by the following statement:
“I hope you are prepared to satisfy the maximum fine and I hope you are able to call a relative or family member to help you if you can’t manage it”.

In contrast section 9C of The Town and Communities Act specifies that “any person who shall make on any fence, wall or other building, any obscene figure, drawing, painting, or representation, or sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or write or draw any indecent or obscene word, figure, or representation, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language publicly can be subject to a fine not exceeding $1,500 or to imprisonment with or without hard labour, for a period not exceeding thirty days.”

Well, clearly using “indecent or obscene language” publicly is 15 times worse than pretending to be somebody else, in essence trying to mislead immigration officials, in Jamaica. And it’s twice as bad as breaching the Contractor General Act, to calculate by the dividend of the maximum number of days one can be sentenced to prison for. Keep in mind that the Act in question is designed to curb corruption in public office, one of the scourges of the developing world. Clearly this crime is viewed with mild disapproval and no more in Jamaica.

The boom shot however is the new Cybercrimes Act under which human rights activist Latoya Nugent was arrested and charged for allegedly publishing information on social media accusing several persons of being sexual predators. According to a report in one newspaper, “Under Section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act, which speaks to the use of a computer for malicious communication, in the case of a first offence, Nugent faces a maximum fine of J$4 million or imprisonment of up to four years, or both, if convicted.”

Blow wow, well blow me down with a feather. Do the math and tell me what you think the Jamaican justice system is telling us about which crimes it considers serious and which ones to rap us on the knuckles for. Tell me why we’re not to conclude that the Jamaican state feels much more threatened by a freedom of speech violation than nefarious crimes such as sidestepping the laws of the nation or brazenly lying to officials about one’s identity.

Senior Trinidad and Tobago journalist Wesley Gibbings says that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are really hard sells in the Caribbean, that deep down Caribbean societies don’t believe in these freedoms. Apart from “financially induced self-censorship” new cyber legislation is a threat, according to Gibbings, who was speaking at a forum on press freedom at Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, because any statement viewed as having embarrassed someone can be considered libelous and subject to punitive fines. Cyber legislation is being invoked under criminal law so that you can be arrested and jailed for being insulting, ‘unpatriotic’ and other such vague and loosely defined terms.

While May 3 is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day there are different metrics of press freedom, according to Gibbings some of which may not be relevant to the Caribbean. Reporters without Borders compiles an index in which Jamaica ranks 8th out of 180 and Trinidad 34th. Despite this says Gibbons “in the Caribbean journalists are not being killed, but many stories die,” though in most places stories die because journalists are killed. But in the Caribbean, according to Gibbings stories die without journalists being killed, silenced by threats to their jobs and self-censorship so the metrics need to be compiled in a much more nuanced way.

The other problem Gibbings feels is that there is little real interest in investigative journalism. “…whether you look at civil society and their representative organizations, journalists themselves, the corporate sector, the state—none of them really want it because a lot of them really wouldn’t last too long in their positions if you had proper investigative journalism.”

This is a chilling realization borne out by the calculus of crime and punishment detailed at the beginning of this column. What it makes clear is that too many sectors of society have a serious interest in maintaining a corrupt status quo, and will use the legal system to suppress those who would expose the wrongdoing while giving a bligh to the wrongdoers.

 

 

Vybz Kartel found guilty of murder

A selection of tweets, including from reps of the accused, immediately before, during and after the tension-filled moments leading up to the jury’s verdict of guilty against Kartel and three of his four co-accused. Includes video of Lizard Williams dancing.

Photo by William Richards http://www.williamrichardsphotography.com


Dec 13, 2013 newscast on Kartel trial detailing video and bbm evidence presented by prosecution

Well, i was wrong. I fully believed that Kartel and co. would walk; because of the weakness of Jamaica’s justice system,  the strength of the defence team, and because the powerful are rarely tried, let alone found guilty in this society. But no! In a dramatic, rapidly unfolding denouement yesterday afternoon the nearly 3-month old Kartel trial came to an emotion-filled climax. Amidst rumours that one of the jurors, ‘No. 3’ to be precise, had tried to offer the jury’s headwoman a J$500,000 bribe, the jury decided 10 to 1 that Kartel, and three of his four co-accused were guilty of the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams, a young dancer whose body has yet to be found.

Lizard’s sister, Stephanie Breakenridge, sat in the courtroom sobbing every now and then as the final moments arrived. In all of the circus around this celebrity court case her brother, seen in the video above dancing and bigging up the Gaza Empire, had been virtually forgotten in the media coverage of the trial, except perhaps as its subject, in cold, clinical terms. His terror-filled texts had been read to the courtroom earlier in the trial but otherwise very little was known of the young man who thought his moment in the sun had arrived the day he was adopted by Kartel and his group.

Word on the verandahs is that the DPP Paula Llewellyn, Judge Campbell, Prosecutor Jeremy Taylor and his team were determined to use this case to showcase the ability of the Jamaican court system to deliver justice, surely if not swiftly. I congratulate them on their determination to demonstrate that justice is not as elusive in Jamaica as many of us have been led to believe…let’s hope the Kartel trial sets the bar for all trials in Jamaica from now on.

As Dah’Mion Blakey said on Facebook: The same rigor with which this case was pursued should be extended to ALL; uptown, downtown, popular, unpopular and indifferent!! #‎JudicialReform‬ ‪#‎SocialJusticeForAll‬

Finally, many of us thought that Kartel would have got off because the jury would have felt too intimidated to find him guilty. Clearly they didn’t. This too was something the DPP must have been keen on establishing, to signal to potential jurors and a timorous public that the all-abiding fear that curtails the carriage of justice too often is perhaps overstated and unnecessary. Of course we have to wait and see and hope that none of the jurors face repercussions for their decision.

Below is a curated collection of tweets that will convey the atmosphere yesterday in Kingston, especially downtown where the Supreme Court is located. There are tweets by @Iamthekartel, a Twitter account supposedly speaking for Kartel, along with many others which capture the climax of this sensational court case.

Finally, thanfully, nxt wk this time Adidja Azim Palmer will be tweeting from this account so beta start follo him from now
Best Male Actor in a supporting role, Shawn Storm. From The Series #KartelMurderTrial
When Kartel gets acquitted he gonna be walking out like… #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/fX4yOzR8Sb
Busta need a day job. Him tun courthouse tetes
We a keep it orderly, nah give the police r media nutten bad fi say bout the Gaza btwn now and the nxt 72 hrs when we expec Addi to walk out
“Mi Bible de near me,” – Vybz Kartel
Appealing to 2 Police,designate a section near the Courthouse where Gazafans can wait in peace 4 d verdict No bada style d people n bloc dem
“Give me a chance fi talk pon poor people behalf” Vybz Kartel.
“Its not a moral war, its a financial war, dem nuh waan ghetto yute fi have house n car.” Vybz Kartel
Breaking – judge in #KartelMurderTrial threatens to take action against Kartel’s lawyer if he interrupts his summing up again
My word – I suggest you walk with an id if you intend to be in downtown KGN as of tomorrow. It’s getting frantic #KartelMurderTrial
Bigup the Legendary Junior Reid 4 his presence in Court today alongside the Legendary @BustaRhymes. Babylon a c the ratings Addi get.
If court starts on time, judge could use another 2 hrs to close summing up & then discharge jury #KartelMurderTrial
But, court has never started on time. May be this will be the once in a blue moon. #KartelMurderTrial
Pot cover, light, horn, shout, ilebrate how u want but keep it legal cuz Babylon nah play today.
5 accused 11 jurors 30 witnesses 65 days so far 6th day of summing up #KartelMurderTrial
Kartel supporters downtown have breached the barrier on Barry Street and have been shouting ‘no Teacha,no school’
Lawyers have been summoned to judge’s chamber. Tension inside; Tension outside. No hallelujah in the middle #KartelMurderTrial
One more time, we have to keep calm. Keep it safe n peaceful
Who would have thunk it. Jury sent to deliberate at 3:42 PM #KartelMurderTrial
Mi a ready up fi di new tune dem fi drown out dis Soca madness!! What will it be…#KartelMurderTrial
The global impact of ONE case in Jamaica. #KartelMurderTrial #Jamaica #Barbados #USA # Canada #Kenya # Indonesia #Waiting to hear
UPDATE: Still awaiting Judge. Tom Tavares Finson has just asked the registrar – “unnu sen fa di Judge” ? ..still waiting
Crazy! “@emilynationwide: Calm on the inside now. Tension on the outside #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/oS8nvAReHx
#courtroomchronicles the room is filled with prosecutors ..DPP is here, all her #gladiators ..no defence counsel in the room. #vktrial
Jury still out for a second time because they told court a moment ago they have a majority verdict of 10:1 #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..Some have said the verdict is guilty ..10 to 1 ..There is talk that there is a new world bawse in town tonight ..
IF YOU SUPPORT OR LISTEN TO KARTEL THERE’S NO WAY A GUILTY VERDICT IS ACCEPTABLE! THE BOSS MUST BE FREE #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..November has led to this ..I have never seen so many prosecutors in court .. where are defence counsel? ?
#courtroomchronicles I see Barbara Gayle ..Anthony Miller ..A host of local and international journalists ..defence counsel now appear ..
#courtroomchronicles ..The judge is flanked by 4 police officers on the bench ..never seen that b4 either ..what a bumbo today .. #vktrial
I would love to see a log of all the tweets on #KartelMurderTrial ..#VeryInteresting
“A phone went off in the court, and it was a vybz Kartel ringtone” #KartelMurderTrial #tvjnews
So the verdict is that there was no verdict? #KartelMurderTrial.
#courtroomchronicles ..one police says she is like a tree planted by the rivers of Jordan . She has nuttn yo fear , as accused men walk in
#Update A press personality ejected from court after phone rings with Vybz Kartel Ringtone #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..kartel dons an epic blue tie, white shirt and dark suit ..The room is filled ..all jurors present ..
Up listening to nationwide radio when I should be writing essays and there’s still no unanimous vote… #KartelMurderTrial
Vybz Kartel has been found Gulity! Sean Storm has been found Guitly. #KartelMurderTrial
But all of Juici celebrated.. And screamed.. Thought it was a rat.. #KartelMurderTrial
Shane Williams acquitted
BREAKING: Shane Williams told he is free to go. Kartel and 3 co-accused will shortly be cuffed and carried away. They’ve been found GUILTY
#courtroomchronicles judge: I thk u n say on behalf of jamaican ppl, thank u for having served so well. Judge now asks DPP to address court
A soh di ting set, yu duh di CRIME jus duh di TIME Rasta! #KartelMurderTrial #WorldBossForBleaching
Judge to jury-‘i will say this u couldn’t have done anything else on this evidence presented here. It was not possible’ #KartelMurderTrial
Sentencing to take place March 27, 2014 #SentencingDay
Looooool”@UWISTAT_MONA: So the possibility of a second Vybz Kartel Lecture at UWI (Mona) was just thrown out the window. #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..Taylor walks away ..he gives no comment ..DPP however is being interviewed ..she didn’t walk away .. *facepalm*
Pple unfollowing Emily Crooks like she be the reason Kartel in jail #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..anxiety fills the corridors now ..The police will arrest a juror ..it is alleged he tried to bribe foreman ..
I wonder how ova Waterford stay….. #KartelMurderTrial
#Breaking – Vybz Kartel is guilty – Juror accused of bribing 500K #KartelMurderTrial – Developing pic.twitter.com/EwzZIVnalp
#courtroomchronicles police are everywhere ..we haven’t yet made our way to the streets ..The air is uncertain ..what will supporters do
#courtroomchronicles …loud noises now being heard in the vicinity of the courthouse as news of the verdict spreads thru the streets
NOW -Shouts coming from Tower Street now ‘we waan Kartel’ Police closing in on the crowd gathered there
Mi nuh see one mothercunt big dancehall artiste ah tweet bout #KartelMurderTrial/#KartelVerdictReaction. Dem in shock or dem happy?
Busta Rhymes was no help lol #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..one lady says “free world bawse ..A him seh bleaching and ah bleaching we seh” …
The sad thing is that the #Endometriosis march won’t even get mentioned because of the #KartelMurderTrial
Juror alleged to have attempted to bribe another juror now detained by the police #KartelMurderTrial
People, we have to respect the justice system. Allow Kartel Lawyers to file the appeal. Let peace reign.
Police directing traffic away from King Street now as bottles are being thrown – police say
How many years are we possibly looking at for each of the accused according to our laws @thelockedwonder ?
Give thnx 4 the support. Give thnx to the lawyers. Be safe; dont give the law any reason to be upset. Gaza 4 life! Empire Foreva! One Love.
Suh since the Police were so confident and diligent and resilient in THIS CASE, We can assume from yah suh on dem ago be dat way every case?
@Uncle_Wil 25 to life …and based on judge’s comments …well, I guess we will know soon..
If anybody thinks #KartelMurderTrial verdict will change #dancehall they are crazy. The music wasn’t on trial. It’s like hip-hop
@Uncle_Wil the appeal will also raise some very interesting points ..including chain of custody, police tampering with evidence, bias etc
#VybzKartel found guilty! Was at Supreme Court until short time ago. Find my piece in tomorrow’s #Gleaner. #KartelMurderTrial
@Uncle_Wil So hope is not lost to the fans …time will tell …it will be very interesting to see how the court of appeal deal with issues
Wasted my good good obeah on that trial— dammit. #GuiltyWorldBoss #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/Nsp8ffpG64
Thx for the overwhelming support. Gaza nuh weak. Who want to be happy n proud that a man gone jail under these circumstances, good 4 them.