St Vincent OKs online defamation law blasted by press groups

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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (AP) — Lawmakers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have passed a bill allowing defamation on the internet to be punished by prison sentences of up to two years.

The Caribbean nation already has similar laws that apply to print and broadcast media, although they are rarely enforced. The new bill extends such penalties to online information and expression.

Local rights organizations and international press groups have expressed concern that the provisions will be used to stifle free speech and online journalism. They have called for the government to revise the law and decriminalize defamation.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has rejected such criticism and says the legislation has been years in the making.

Parliament approved the law Friday with a 12-9 vote.

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