Gaston, DCA, State-Backed Censorship

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

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What has occurred in Antigua and Barbuda over the past two weeks is in my opinion, nothing short of a constitutional coup.


I refer to extremely controversial and, in my opinion, very likely illegal, actions of officers from the DCA, who, backed by the police, entered onto private land on two separate occasions and removed politically critical banners from two billboards.

Understand the gravity of the situation. The state has acted in a manner that can only be described as rogue.

There is no law that empowers the DCA to regulate the content of signage and to forcibly remove or alter public messaging.

Antigua and Barbuda is a liberal democracy despite the corruption, nepotism and cronyism that suffocates us in this place.

This is not the former Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of Antigua and Barbuda.

This is not a Putin-styled state where police and state officials descend on the premises of the opposition to tear down signage and posters critical of the government or its allies.

But that is exactly what has happened in this case.

Police and DCA officers moved in within hours – literally hours – to rip down banners from pre-existing billboards.

These banners bore messaging that was critical of an ally of the Prime Minister and the Browne administration – Browne’s Ambassador to China, Brian Stuart-Young.

The banners highlighted the fact that the bank of which Stuart-Young is boss, the Global Bank of Commerce (GBC), is in a legal battle with a wealthy depositor, Jack Stroll, over millions that the bank says it cannot give him back upfront due to its ongoing financial situation, and despite court decisions in Stroll’s favour.

Stuart-Young has become an opposition target because he is a close ally of Gaston Browne. He has been Ambassador to China for years, and he and Browne worked at GBC when it was Swiss American Bank.


Additionally, many will remember that Browne’s government bought a majority stake years ago in Caribbean Union Bank, headed then by Brian Stuart-Young.

Whether or not Brian Stuart-Young warrants the level of attention being paid to him by the opposition is another matter, and one that is debatable.

But he cannot expect to be in the public eye as (a) the CEO of a significant financial institution and (b) an official of the government of Antigua and Barbuda, and escape scrutiny and criticism.

And yet, sparing Brian Stuart-Young from criticism and ridicule is exactly what the Gaston Browne administration set out to do when it sent DCA officers onto private land to tear down billboard banners that were critical of Stuart-Young, a key official in the Browne administration and a close and longtime ally of the Prime Minister.

This is so blatantly wrong, illiberal autocratic, and unconstitutional, that a blindfolded man staring in the opposite direction could see it vividly.

What’s worse is that the DCA falls under Maria Browne, Minister of Housing, Lands, Public Works etc – the wife of the Prime Minister.

So, here you have officers working in an agency that reports to the Prime Minister’s wife, acting to censor public messages critical of the Prime Minister’s friend, over a matter involving a bank where the Prime Minister and his friend used to work? Do I have it right?

This politically incestuous behaviour is abhorrent.

The officers of the state are not the personal henchmen of Gaston Browne or his wife, whom he or she can dispatch at their whim to violate the private premises of citizens and hinder, alter, censor, or destroy speech, which is politically inexpedient to them or their friends, supporters, family members, or allies.

The constitution enshrines the right to freedom of expression and mandates that no person shall be prohibited from such expression in public, in written or oral or other form, except when it is reasonably required in a few circumstances.

Among them, are public morality, public order, and the need to protect the reputations, rights, and freedoms of other people.

So, were the messages displayed vulgar and immoral by reasonable standards? No.

Did the messages incite violence, such that it was a threat to public order? No.

Was it harmful to the reputation of anyone such that what it stated was untrue? What was untrue about the messages displayed? You tell me.

In any event, would it not be incumbent upon the offended party to seek immediate relief from the courts by way of an injunction to have the signage removed or covered pending the courts’ decision on the question of defamation?

The DCA notice said the signage was “defamatory”. Did the DCA have a court order that it was enforcing when it removed the signage? Which arm of government makes determinations of issues of defamation? The executive? Or the judiciary?

How did the DCA and by extension, the executive branch, usurp the role of the courts in determining what is and is not defamatory, and determining the appropriate steps to be taken?

That is a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.

And it is exactly why that doctrine exists – to prevent the executive from arbitrarily overreaching to clamp down on things it simply does not find politically convenient at any given time.

What has transpired is an overt and vulgar instance of state-backed censorship. I have every confidence that it was baseless and unlawful.

In this regard, the main opposition must meet the government head on.

File an application in court for a declaration that the actions of the DCA were ultra vires and seek an immediate injunction to prevent the DCA from removing the same signage again.

Further, seek damages and restitution for the property that was destroyed.

The government must be brought to heel and must been seen so to be. When the injunction comes back barring the DCA from repeating what it did, let Gaston Browne retreat to the comfort his gossip and echo chamber, and rant and rave, and attack the court, and be cuddled, mollycoddled, and consoled by Donna Chaia and Colin O’neal.

Let the officers from the DCA dare to do it again and let them be arrested for contempt.

It is long past the time that the lawlessness and gangsterism that is the hallmark of Gaston Browne’s administration, be fought tooth and nail.

Sincerely, a Fed Up with this Lawlessness

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