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24 Aug 2021


Vanuatu: Criminal defamation provisions create chilling effect on free speech online & beyond

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"Criminal defamation provisions create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Vanuatu", 24 August 2021.

In June 2021, the new criminal defamation provisions in Vanuatu came into force... [A]n individual could now face up to three years imprisonment for false representation on any public platform that is likely to "expose another person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule" or "injure that person’s profession, reputation, office, business, trade or occupation" on public platforms including “television, radio, internet websites, social networking sites and blog sites”.

Vanuatu’s prime minister, Bob Loughman, said that the changes were aimed at addressing how people talk on social platforms, but acknowledged its effects could be more far-reaching.

Dr Tess Newton Cain, programme leader of the Griffith Asia Institute Pacific Hub, said that the broad wording of the amendments... could have “a significant chilling effect” on journalists and others expressing their opinions on everything from talkback radio to Facebook.

Placing libel under criminal rather than civil law... “could have a very significant impact on whether journalists choose to progress stories”...

These moves are inconsistent with the consensus in recent years that has grown in support of the decriminalisation of defamation. In General Comment 34, the UN Human Rights Committee urged states to decriminalise defamation...