Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica to consider abolishing criminal defamation laws

The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago has agreed to review the Caribbean nation's criminal defamation laws, according to the International Press Institute (IPI). Jamaica also is looking at repealing its criminal defamation laws before the end of the year, the Caribbean Media Corporation reported.

The news comes on the heels of the IPI 2012 World Congress, which focused on decriminalizing libel and defamation in the Caribbean, and a two-week, four-country mission to abolish criminal defamation.

Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the point of the review is to bring the country's defamation laws "in line with international best practice," reported Guardian Media. Still, the prime minister also warned journalists that they needed to be aware of their responsibilities, according to the Demerara Waves news site.

“We should not be jailed for what we do,” said Wesley Gibbings, president of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, as quoted by news site Infosurhoy.com. “In fact, people should generally not be jailed for expressing themselves. Whether it’s opinion … or whether it’s an analysis of our reality, people should not be sent to jail.”

As Infosurhoy.com pointed out, in the Caribbean, criminal defamation laws typically are used by politicians and the wealthy elite. For example, in January, a Dominican Republic journalist, Johnny Alberto Salazar, was sentenced to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine for libel and defamation of a lawyer. An appeals court overturned the journalist's sentence in June, according to the newspaper El Nuevo Diario.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.