THE Media Assocaition (MATT) is sounding alarm over the police's search of the home of former government minister and political activist Devant Maharaj, whose personal cellphone was seized by police.
MATT in a release issued said the police executed a search warrant and seized Maharaj's phone under section 106(b) of the Summary Offences Act Chapter 11.02. The search was done relative to ongoing investigations by police into a series of bomb threats recently to a number of schools.
Section 106(b), MATT said, creates the offence of sending a message which is known to be false by telephone or telegram for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person.
The association reiterated that source protection is fundamental to press freedom. "We are troubled that section 160(b) has been activated to force disclosure of sources. On its plain meaning, the section criminalises the actions of the person(s) who sent the bomb threats."
However, the police, as reported in the media, confirmed that Maharaj is not considered a suspect in its investigation into the bomb threats. Furthermore, MATT said, there is existing legislation which facilitates the pursuit and identification of perpetrators of threats to public safety such as the Interception of Communications Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act, both of which require judicial oversight.
Judicial oversight is a check-and-balance mechanism against overreach of State authority, MATT said. The police's action towards Maharaj appears to be "an oddly circuitous method of crime-solving."
MATT warned that the use of section 160(b) by the police has the potential to criminalise the action of all citizens, including journalists, who share information in a public space concerning threats to public safety "and exposes us all to similar coercive police action."
As such, MATT wishes to flag this issue for all journalists, bloggers, trade unions, calypsonians and anyone who is a responsible conduit of information to the public.