Defamation is no longer a crime under the Seychelles Penal Code after the National Assembly passed an amendment to remove it on Wednesday.
Vice President Ahmed Afif presented the proposal to remove sections 184 and 191 from chapter 18 in the Penal Code to the Seychelles National Assembly on Wednesday following recommendations from the Attorney General’s office.
Section 184 under chapter 18 defines defamation as “any person who by print, writing, painting, effigy, or by any means otherwise than solely by gestures, spoken words or other sounds, unlawfully publishes any defamatory matter concerning another person, with intent to defame that other person, is guilty of a misdemeanour termed libel.”
Afif said that criminal defamation is not only outdated but contradicts several international conventions that Seychelles has signed.
“Although it is rare for anyone to be charged for criminal defamation, the law may be used to silence the media, in turn negatively affecting freedom of expression. It must be noted that the defamation laws are not there to protect anyone’s reputation but rather to silence voices against the government and government officials,” he explained.
Furthermore, although criminal defamation is a cause for concern everywhere in the world, Afif said that “here in Seychelles it is very rare that someone is charged for such offences.”
In the last decade, only Bernard Sullivan has been officially charged for criminal defamation by the Supreme Court after he allegedly paraded the disfigured portrait of a local politician on his vehicle.
Sullivan’s sentence was subject to an appeal being lodged before the court of appeals and it made headlines in international news. He was imprisoned for 25 hours at the Central Police station in Victoria, the country’s capital. Sullivan took his case to the Constitutional Court and finally to the Court of Appeal claiming that he was prevented from being able to express himself freely.
Following this course of events, the Court of Appeal in August 2014 recommended that the criminal defamation laws be thoroughly reviewed, as they represented a part of the British Common Law that has since been abolished.
“This proposal to remove criminal defamation is a step in a new direction and is a positive sign for the media and the international community… Removing criminal defamation will free us to better enjoy our rights to freedom of expression and allow the media to effectively keep the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government accountable,” he said.
Seychelles, an archipelago in the Western Indian Ocean, has been working to modernise its laws in the last couple of years.
The country with 99,000 inhabitants improved its ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, climbing 11 spots to 52nd out of 180 countries for 2020. The index is published by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a Paris-based non-governmental organisation.