GENEVA (22 May 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today called on the Government of Nauru to withdraw recent amendments to the Criminal Code which unduly restrict freedom of expression. Mr. Kaye also urged the authorities to revoke other measures that restrain access to internet and social media and curtail the freedom of the press.
“These new laws could be used to muzzle dissenting opinions and deter human rights defenders, academics, journalists, students, politicians and civil society members”, the expert warned.
As adopted by Parliament, the Criminal Code amendment (section 244A) is ambiguous and imposes harsh penalties, including up to seven years prison sentence, for a wide range of legitimate expression. “Any legislation aiming at regulating the freedom of expression must be strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, and should be worded precisely and with care,” he added.
“Nauru should allow free space for expression without fear of criminal prosecution,” Mr. Kaye stated. “It should lift all restrictions to access internet and social media, and facilitate access to the media in the country.”
Since April, access to several social media outlets, including Facebook, has been blocked, on the official justification to limit pornography, crime and cyberbullying, and to protect the national culture. However, the independent expert is concerned that these restrictions are instead “designed to prevent asylum seekers and refugees in the country from sharing information on their situation.”
Freedom of the press has also been limited when, last year, the Government imposed prohibitive visa fees for foreign journalists to enter the country, increasing the amount to 6,500 USD for a single entry visa. This is especially problematic in a small country where there are very few journalists and limited media outlets.
“Nauru should revise its course of action and take measures to fulfill its human rights obligations: it should revise the legislation according to international standards,” the Special Rapporteur said.