Tuesday 26 June 2007

Insult laws an insult to democracy

Humourlessly derisive

Sometimes, one is almost in great shame to be African when news of crass stupidity emanates from the continent about leaders who think they are demigods.

Obviously, there is probably some sense in protecting public officials from unwarranted insults and verbal attacks accompanied by threats of violence.

However, the whole thing about insulting leaders and having the freedom of expression of the culprits curtailed to the extent of exercising the law of crime and punishment is a bit of overkill.

Indeed, some culprits might have to be cautioned in order to forestall civil unrest, but that should be as a very last resort.

Lèse Majesté

In Thailand where lèse majesté laws are part of the culture, it is understandable that revered monarchies can expect a level of protection from unnecessary assaults to their person or office, however, there is a Quid pro quo in this relationship - between king and subjects; the monarch should be seen to carry his office with grace and respect to the point of being irreproachable.

What I fail to appreciate is leaders who assume a position of authority either by democratic mandate or some putsch of suspicious intent who then suddenly arrogate to themselves lèse majesté mystique as if they were kings anointed of God to rule over man and not answerable to anyone.

This kind of primitive exercise of humourless conduct is unbecoming of democracies not to talk of the 21st Century, of all times.

Writing fiction as truth

So, a secondary school teacher asks a final-year class to write a humorous essay about the mistress of a fictitious African leader; some zealous sycophant comes across the material and automatically suggests that the President of Mali has been insulted.

This becomes a charge that goes to court and they end up with suspended jail terms in a hearing that took place in a closed court.

So much for democracy in Mali if it cannot be underpinned by the all important freedom of expression because some patronage seeking prosecutor has been consumed with irrational zeal and reckless abuse of office and error of judgement. This is unlike a case in Zambia where the courts are not only more circumspect, they were reasonable and stopped the deportation of a satirical journalist for using animal metaphors to describe the president.

Insult laws an insult to democracy

It would appear laws similar to this silly exercise in stupidity called "insult laws" exist in 48 out of 53 countries in Africa, allowing for the freedom of press to be curtailed and giving the government to power to stifle debate, dissent and opposition.

Germany and Poland has laws that make it illegal to insult foreign heads of state, especially those present in Polish territory when it comes to Poland and that is sensible enough.

If only we could see more noblesse oblige and less lèse majesté aggrandisement, we might just get on with making Africa less of a global laughing-stock when more important things are there to be done.

Makes you wonder, if the President of Mali really does have a mistress, a concubine, a harlot, a harem, a dominatrix in his palace or he is given to more unmentionable lewd conduct?

Now, I would be persona-non-grata in Mali along with Thailand, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I am doing fine.

Stupid laws

Becoming persona non grata in Thailand

Cellophane skinned lion hearts

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