Paul Paraka Lawyers: Usurping the Rule of Law?
Antony Grey, the recently deceased GBLT rights activist credited with the global acceptance of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender rights, once stated:
“Whatever its starting point and expressed intention, the end of the censor’s road is repression of ‘dangerous’ ideas – not only about sex but about morals, politics, art and life. Opposition to censorship must inevitably involve us in defending things and people whom we may dislike and disapprove of (sometimes passionately).
Voltaire’s well known saying that ‘I detest what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’ may seem trite to us but is as apposite as it ever was.”
I was acutely reminded of this powerful dictum when I was emailed a copy of the following documentation dated June 4th (Click here: Paul Paraka Lawyers’ Letter). The documentation consists of a letter from the General Manager of Paul Paraka Lawyers (PPL), Kepson Pundu, to Global Technologies asking the ISP to immediately block access to a number of PNG Blogs that are discussing the Commission of Inquiry into the Finance Department. The report implicated the law firm in the theft of K780 million of public money from the department over the period 2000 to 2006.
I remember in 2006 that this same law firm was on the front page of the Post-Courier becuase it claimed to have saved the State K1.3 billion worth of court litigation costs over the period 2003 to 2006. This coincidence is rather startling – and it begs the question, how much has PPL actually “saved” the State?
PPL’s June 4th letter is extraordinary in that the law firm has interpreted Point 4 of the Court Order to include both electronic email and media content on the World Wide Web – hence the request that a number of PNG Blogs be permanently blocked to the PNG general public (Click here: Paul Paraka Lawyers’ Court Order). It’s almost a modern day version of Socrates ordered to drink poison, albeit we’re talking about the entire world here – not just classical Greece.
In January this year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered an address at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Internet Freedom in the 21st Century. She said, “We need to work toward a world in which access to networks and information brings people closer together and expands the definition of the global community.”
In terms of PNG, a commitment to defending the freedom of expression and the free flow of information in the 21st century is also important. The free flow of information and ideas over digital technologies is in our national and global interest, i.e., it is important for economic growth; for PNG diplomatic relationships; for building a sustainable democratic society; and for meeting global challenges in the years and decades ahead.
I don’t think PPL have vigorously thought through their eccentric demand. Internet censorship laws in PNG have yet to be introduced and the focus of these would not be on restricting internet content per se, but ensuring that complaints about objectionable material were addressed – jurisdiction permitting.
PPL’s letter demanding Global Technologies to block the mentioned content is misguided at best, and just plain stupid at worst. If the issue of whether Point 4 of the Court Order includes email and the Internet were to be challenged in court, I would expect that the court would rule against PPL’s interpretation. Why? Because to grant an injunction to restrain publication of matter on the Internet would be to superimpose the law of PNG (or interpretation of it) relating to defamation on every other state, territory and country of the world.
Theoretically, the objective of defamation laws is to balance protection of individual reputation with freedom of expression. In practice, defamation laws are frequently used as a means of chilling speech. A threat of (costly) defamation proceedings and damages, whether or not a plaintiff’s claim is likely to be upheld by a court, is often used to silence criticism not only by a particular person or group but also as a threat to others. PPL would be very much familiar with this.
Unless the PNG judicial system wants to create the precedent for a future where the PNG information and technology sector looks very much similar to that of China’s – PPL’s demand can not and should not be met.
In conclusion, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.