A committee of members of the Swaziland (eSwatini) parliament have voted to amend a Bill that could impose a E10 million fine or 10 years’ jail time on people publishing ‘fake news’.
The section of the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, 2020 on ‘fake news’ was removed by the Ministry of Information and Technology Portfolio Committee, its chair Macford Sibandze told the news website Swati Newsweek.
The Bill set out to make it unlawful for any person to publish any statement or fake news through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person or group of persons. On conviction a person would be liable to a fine not exceeding E10 million (US$600,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.
The new law would allow the courts to prosecute in some circumstances Swazi nationals who live outside of Swaziland. It also covers a wide range of offences including spamming and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking includes making false accusations, defamation and identity theft.
Sibandze told Swati Newsweek, ‘A section on fake news was completely removed. Fines were cut by 50 to 75 percent, whilst others up to 90 percent.’
Swaziland has a poor human rights record and media are severely restricted by more than 30 laws. The Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill which was announced in August 2020 was widely criticised by human rights campaigners.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in a 14-page response to the new Bill said the definition of ‘fake news’ and the offence itself was not included in a Southern African Development Community (SADC) model law that covered these areas.
It added, ‘The offence of fake news is highly subjective and overly broad and ought to be qualified further or repealed altogether. Intentionally deceiving only one person ought never to be an offence under this section, and if the deceit was for a purpose of fraud, for example, that would be the appropriate offence to charge a person with.’
It said, ‘The offences of cybersex or sexual grooming with a child, cyberbullying, cyber stalking, harassment, and trafficking in humans, all attach a penalty of up to E10m fine or 10 years’ imprisonment or both. Fake news and violation of intellectual property rights, which do less harm to the individual attach the same penalties of E10m or 10 years’ imprisonment,’ it added.
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