Mauritius is currently seeing an attack on its entrenched freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
A law amended in the Parliament on Oct 30 has paved the way for massive criticism against the embattled regime in Port Louis.
The amendment was to curb on such criticism, but it backfired and is already been tested by netizens and the political forces on the distant Island nation.
The amendment is reminiscent of Najib Razak’s regime in Malaysia. Doing everything to muzzle criticism, Najib’s party which ruled for 61 years lost the elections in a dramatic manner.
With the backdrop of this stark comparison, the Independent spoke to the leader of the Opposition in Mauritius to seek some clarification on this breaking story.
Mr Xavier-Luc Duval, the opposition leader says Canada and Reunion Island has started to look at the amended act in Mauritius.
Duval says the amendment to the ICT Act in Mauritius is a clear assault against the entrenched freedom of expression in the country.
He says the amendments made to the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Act were unconstitutional. The amendments are part of the Judicial and Legal Provisions Bill.
“Let us put it in context. Social media played a major part in the 2014 general elections. It played a very major part. The government victory – and I was part of the government at that time, is partly attributed to the role played by the social media networks.
“Now the government is amending the laws in order to impose a curb on the social media as it has the potential to impact the next general elections.
He says the government may feel that after five years in power, it is vulnerable.
The terms they used in the amendments, such as ‘causing annoyance’ will be ‘illegal’ is vague because anyone can be ‘annoyed’ and that will constitute a violation of the amended act, he says.
“It is unconstitutional. We have freedom of expression in Mauritius and you cannot restrict that as it is enshrined in the constitution,’ he says.
He adds that a subsidiary law like the ICT Act should not be used to restrict the freedom of expression in the country as it is an ‘undemocratic move’.
“But this act will have to be tested in court. Already Mauritians are testing the amendments by ignoring them. I have no doubt that the courts will throw out this amendment.
“However, it will be a lengthy process. In Mauritius, we have due process of the law. And if there is an appeal the final verdict will come out of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. We still have a very independent judicial system,” he says.
When asked what is his message to the government on this issue, Duval gave them a stark warning.
“This is a retrograde step, an unconstitutional piece of legislation that is very unpopular with the population here. And should anyone be arrested under the law, it will be the downfall of the government.
“It is a lose-lose situation for the government. If it were to be applied, it will gather so much discontent against the government,” he said.
The amendments to the ICT Act is having repercussions outside the country altogether.
In Dubai, the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) is said to have given a warning to a Mauritian. Shameem Korimbocus, for his postings about the paradisiac Island.
Mr Korimbocus has a very popular Facebook page called “La Verite Pou Derange Zot’ translated from Creole it means ‘The truth will disturb them’.
He regularly posts videos of him poking fun at officials, ministers and political figures in general. Dubai authorities, he said, has threatened to deport him if he did not stop posting such funny videos.
He has not posted any since he was brought to the immigration HQ in Dubai, but he was not deported to Mauritius.
An audio recording has also surfaced depicting the voice of a former Minister who was the target of Shameem’s videos ‘discussing’ the Dubai interior ministry’s attempt to muzzle the Mauritian.
Duval’s party the Party Mauricien Social Democrat (PMSD) left the government after a fall out on the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
An attempt to get the PMSD to vote an amendment to the laws guiding this independent body failed. The party then decided to join the opposition, thus taking away the government’s capacity to amend the law.
Elections are expected next year, after a five years rule of the Movement Socialist Militant (MSM) and Movement Liberateur (ML) government.
Duval says his party will probably be in a coalition to face the next general elections.
Cordoba.Ali contributed to the article