SAEF, EFL accuse govt of lopsided response

 

 Lesotho gazettes excessive cyber laws

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) has joined the Editors Forum of Lesotho (EFL) in calling upon the government of Lesotho to prioritise restructuring the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill of 2021 and other abusive laws and ensure that these conform to international human rights standards.

In a joint statement Willie Mponda, SAEF chairman, and Teboho Khatebe Molefi, EFL chairman, also condemn the gazetting of The Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Device Registration) Regulations, 2021, by the government of Lesotho.

In a statement released this week the media bodies said the expectation is that under international human rights law governments are obliged to protect people from harm resulting from a criminal activity carried out through the internet.

However, their view is that Lesotho government’s responses to cybercrime are disproportionate, and can undermine rights.

“While cybercrime poses a real threat to people’s human rights and livelihoods, we believe efforts to address it need to protect and not undermine citizens’ rights and we strongly oppose the Lesotho government’s overbroad and aggressive cybercrime laws that threaten people’s rights.

“Both the proposed cybercrime law and the approved communications regulations are overly broad and criminalise online expression, association, and assembly – encroaching on the rights of the public,” reads the statement.

The statement further articulates that steps by the government to address cybercrime also risk legitimising abusive practices and could even be used as an excuse to silence government critics and undermine privacy.

SAEF and the EFL further note that the tabled Bill serves only to close space for civil society and deprive citizens of their rights, especially the right to freedom of expression and association, whereas they should bolster protection of freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.

“SAEF and its chapter EFL have observed that national cybercrime laws in various parts of the world already unduly restrict rights and are being used to persecute journalists, human rights defenders, technologists, opposition politicians, lawyers, religious reformers, artists, among others.

“We call upon the government of Lesotho to prioritise restructuring these abusive laws to conform with international human rights standards.

“Any effort to address cybercrime needs to reinforce, not undermine, freedom of expression and other human rights,” the statement continues.

“Further, this process should be open and transparent, and that civic bodies, the media fraternity, and human rights groups should be consulted and their views considered,” the editors said.

The forums also noted that they both strongly feel that the proposed regulations contain provisions that threaten the right to protection of the law and the right to freedom of expression, among other rights, under the constitution of Lesotho.

The Bill, they added, is inconsistent with regional and international standards and instruments on human rights, such as the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, the Malabo Convention.

The Media Institute of Southern African (MISA) Lesotho Chapter and the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) only last week also said it will be a tragedy for Basotho if the Bill is passed in its present form.

MISA Lesotho and TRC made their separate submissions to the portfolio committee last week Monday and Tuesday respectively.

“The most prominent characteristic of the Bill is that it does not strike a balance between civil liberties and the government interest in ‘national security’ and law enforcement,” bodies said.

“The government, through its created agency, assumes extreme and extensive powers in policing cyberspace. The government powers in terms of the Bill are arbitrary and limitations of the rights and freedoms not demonstrably justifiable,” they added.

“The challenge has been to conflate the two,” MISA Lesotho National Director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, told the committee. Ntsukunyane said his organisation’s comprehensive analysis of the Bill realised that in considering illegal access to computer data, the Bill did not provide a clear definition of illegal access.

“Section 21 of the Bill deals with illegal access, but it does so in vague terms. Therefore, the recommendation is that illegal access should be clearly defined under the interpretation section and there must also be clear provisions in the law,” he said.

The Bill was presented to parliament by then Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Keketso Sello, on March 23, this year.

The presentation was met with outrage from activist groups which said they were “extremely worried” that the Bill was drafted by the relevant government ministry “without consulting all the parties that would be affected by the said bill once it becomes law.”

The Bill is for an Act that will make provision for offences relating to the misuse of electronic communication devices and electronic networks.

It seeks to regulate jurisdiction and powers of investigation, search, access and seizure and collection of evidence in respect of computer crime.

The Act will also make provision for the designation and protection of critical information infrastructure, impose obligations on electronic communications service providers and financial institutions to assist in the investigations of cybercrimes and report such crimes.

 

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