Latoya Nugent, LGBT Rights Activist from Jamaica Granted Bail After Being Arrested

Latoya Nugent
Jamaican LGBT and women’s human rights activist Latoya Nugent

On Wednesday, Jamaican LGBT and women’s human rights activist Latoya Nugent was granted bail. She is being charged with three counts of using her “computer for malicious communication under Section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015.” On Monday, 13th March 2017, Nugent was arrested for publicly posting the names of purported sexual predators on Facebook, who in turn filed a formal complaint to the police for her “malicious” intent. According to Nugent, this is the first time the Cybercrimes Act is being used to target a human rights defender. Activists worry that should Nugent be charged, this will set a dangerous precedent against the freedom of speech in the country and allow for the law to be used to police and silence human rights activists. Nugent is planning to plead “not guilty” to the charges in her next court appearance on the 31st of March.

Latoya Nugent spoke to OutRight’s Communications Officer, Rashima Kwatra, after her appearance in court and gave us some more insight into the case.

RK: What are some of the concerns over the use of the Cybercrimes Act in your case and more broadly?

LN:  Prior to 2015, there have been suggestions that a number of people, including legal practitioners, thought that the law was problematic and open to all sorts of misinterpretations. This conversation is returning to the mainstream media after my case. Folks engaged in digital activism are expressing concerns on how the legislation is being used. On Tuesday, the parliamentarian who was the Chairperson responsible for drafting the Cybercrimes Act indicated that the legislation was not designed to criminalize defamation - he wasn’t pleased at how it was being used - this has stirred up conversation on the local use and application of the law.

RK: You are planning to pursue a constitutional challenge to the law, could you tell us your thoughts behind that?

LN: The thing is that based on how the Cybercrimes Act is worded, it leaves too much room for abuse and that abuse of power would come in the form of essentially muscling human rights defenders. It is a threat to freedom of expression. One of the reasons we are challenging the constitutionality of the law is that if the same kinds of statements are made in a non-electronic form there is no criminal repercussion, what is available to citizens is a civil suit. This legislation is trying to criminalize human rights defenders or people in general who engage in cyber activism. In 2013 there was a reform of legislation that previously criminalized defamation and the parliament decided in 2013 there would no longer be a criminal element to any case of defamation. Now see the Cybercrimes Act use a back door to decriminalize defamation. That is worthy of being challenged. This should be a civil matter between private citizens.

RK: How has the media attention on this case helped or hindered the causes you stand for?

LN: There is a lot of conversation going on - almost everyday for past few days there has been something in the media about sexual violence and abuse against women and girls and on related issues. Folks in the women’s movement are grateful that it is a forcing us to deal with the issue of sexual violence in a comprehensive way without having to wait for a gruesome case to hook our advocacy on. We are having a conversation about what sexual violence looks like, what institutions perpetuate violence against women and children, what the state is doing on these issues. The PM even spent an amount of time talking about sexual violence and gender based violence and that is usually not at the forefront in the PM’s presentations. So many voices are speaking in a sustained matter about these kinds of issues. Even though the arrest was very unfortunate, it was a wake up call for activists that there is much work to be done.

RK: What has been the community response to your case?

LN: The support has been overwhelming and humbling. Seeing email threads where a lot of folks have been very vocal on this issue, solidarity statements from within the country, and also from the diaspora, especially from Canada. One of the things I’m pleased with is how widespread the conversation is getting across the region, human rights defenders in other counties are standing in solidarity with me and with the movement in jamaica , this will have positive implications.

RK: Has your sexual orientation come into play in the media and in the public response?

LN: There are folks who want to discredit my work because identify as lesbian but there has been a magnitude of response to that negative position - a response that says - “hey it doesn't matter if she is lesbian, at the end of the day what she is interested in is in protecting women and children, whether she is straight or LBT that should not be an issue.” We have not seen a lot of that in Jamaica, when people are saying that “it doesn't matter, the work needs to be done.” This is the kind of narrative that I want - I want people to recognize that someone's sexual orientation or gender identity should not matter, that even though there is a negative reaction to my affirming my sexual identity, the response to that has been heartwarming and strange in a country like Jamaica where we are considered to be homophobic.

RK: How will this case impact the region more widely?

LN: A number of states within the Caribbean have been looking to the Jamaica Cybercrimes legislation as they draft their own. I think a number of countries are watching to see what happens in this case. I believe that this will give them pause because they are now interested in how this will unfold and what will happen. I am considering the constitutional challenge and it may affect how human rights defenders engage in advocacy in this and related issues. I think in a lot of ways it will encourage more advocates across the Caribbean to speak on the issue of sexual violence and gender based violence and perhaps get more support of their local government.

***Note: In an article by Loop Jamaica, “The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has warned that misuse of social media platforms could be dangerous and lead to possible breaches of the law.” In a press release issued last week, the JCF said “Over time the JCF has grown increasingly concerned with child pornography, images of carcasses, videos of domestic violence, public mischief and false news being circulated on social media. Any misuse of social media platforms could be dangerous, lead to distress and possible breaches of the law."