The Misuse of Telephones and Telegrams: Why State is over-reaching by prosecuting Facebook post

“The provision [used to prosecute Rayad Mohammed] was enacted in 1951. Yes, 1951. It was enacted to deal with the “misuse of telephone facilities and false telegrams. The legislature at the time sought to capture offensive messages that may have been transmitted by landlines and telegrams.

“It is a stretch, a painful one at that, to suggest that online activities are caught by this section—even if those activities are facilitated through one’s mobile phone.”

The following Letter to the Editor regarding the criminal prosecution of Rayad Mohammed for a grossly offensive Facebook post aimed at the family of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was submitted by barrister and senior lecturer Dr Emir Crowne BA, LLB, LLM, LLM, PhD, LEC:

Photo: Rayad Mohammed has been prosecuted for an offensive Facebook post aimed at the family of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Rayad Mohammed, the author of a morally condemnable Facebook post, was recently charged under section 106 of the Summary Offences Act.  That section states that:

“Any person who—

(a) sends any message by telephone which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character; or

(b) sends any message by telephone, or any telegram, which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person; or

(c) persistently makes telephone calls without reasonable cause and for any such purpose as mentioned above, is liable on summary conviction to a fine of two hundred dollars or to imprisonment for one month.”

The provision was enacted in 1951. Yes, 1951. It was enacted to deal with the “misuse of telephone facilities and false telegrams.” The legislature at the time sought to capture offensive messages that may have been transmitted by landlines and telegrams.

It is a stretch, a painful one at that, to suggest that online activities are caught by this section—even if those activities are facilitated through one’s mobile phone.

Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

To be successfully prosecuted under the Criminal Law, there must be a statutory wrong. In the absence of clear statutory language, there can be no criminal wrongdoing. Unlike other areas of law (like Torts), there are no ‘judge made’ crimes.

To borrow the words of the House of Lords in R v. Gold and Schifreen, [1988] 2 WLR 984 (a case concerning alleged computer hacking): it is a “Procrustean attempt to force the facts of the present case into the language of an Act not designed to fit them”.

Indeed, if so-called cybercrimes were caught under this section—and others—there would be no reason for specific cybercrime legislation in the first place. We could simply rely on extremely dated laws and their whopping TT$200 fines.

To be clear, the language used in the Facebook status (which I shall not repeat), was disgusting. There is no denying that. But as the US Supreme Court recently remarked in Matal v. Tam, 582 U. S. ____ (2017) (a case concerning offensive trademarks):

“The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend. And, as we [the Supreme Court] have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.” (citing United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U. S. 644, 655 (1929)

Photo: A judge calls for order.

It was a clear message from the US Supreme Court that free speech protects unpopular speech with as much force and vigour as it does popular/mainstream speech.

Again, to be clear, I thoroughly disagree with the content of Mr Mohammed’s Facebook status: but he committed no crime. The State had no business detaining him, or charging him, as there was no specific criminal law breached in this instance.

Until specific, and constitutionally-sound, laws are enacted to deal with so-called cybercrimes of this nature, Mr Mohammed is simply a target of the State’s excessive reach.

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  1. When the girl abused kpb nobody say quack ..thats the same thing this young man did…eh Cheryl Roy..allu to biased

  2. I hope that the authorities move this swiftly if a normal citizen is threatened this way!

  3. Well impsbert get “hacked” … so I guess it was OK. ..

  4. All who’s in his defense and think nothing is wrong with his statement I would love for you’ll to repeat it and post. That would be awesome

  5. So hinds and others gonna get charged

  6. As I repeatedly say..I hope the investigators show this kinda persistence and resilience in solving all crimes…but then again it seemed they didn’t interpret the law all that perfect ..anyways here’s another way actual criminals get free…

  7. In the USA, the FBI was going to arrest him! You can’t do that. I don’t understand why all the views on a matter before the courts! That was distasteful! One thing has nothing to do with the other, & it wasn’t fake!

  8. We as a people/ citizens of TnT are not able to think/ act (transparently) outside of ethnicity & politics … we pick a side and sadly stick to it regardless … years of being brainwashed by “tribal politics.”

  9. We as a people/ citizens of TnT are not able to think/ act (transparently) outside of ethnicity & politics … we pick a side and sadly stick to it regardless … years of being brainwashed by “tribal politics.”

  10. What about the killers though.all attention is on a statement rather than an act which actually cost two lives.Am i to understand by the unfolding events that speakin assness is far worse than the crime and response the asinine coment was about.

  11. Freedom of expression does not give one the right to use language that can excite violence against another. Throughout many democracies, persons are hauled before the Courts for similar statements. He will have his day in Court.

  12. What happened to freedom of expression as stipulated in the constitution, I did not hear any threats in the video… as one person said earlier we await the politicians to be held accountable for thier statements that offended the population.. #dictatorshipishere #blindedbypolitics #protectourrights

  13. And start persecuting ppl who like to destroy ppl character on line too…

  14. D same ppl who vex because this is small thing will be the first to blame the authorities if there was to be any follow up on this….stupes!

  15. This guy is being made an example off by the government hopefully those kids that were photographed handling high powered guns used for war would be made examples off as well. The laws cannot only be for some.

  16. Lessons if not given, will not be learnt.

  17. He should know that but the hate in the heart so bad for Mr Rowley most of them why god is watching them from a distance Amen

  18. I concur with Dr Crowne……he has not committed any crime…..besides Hinds utterances and incitement was worse. ….. and he continues to walk around with his foot I his mouth

  19. It seems crime is only wrong dependent on who commits it in this country. My close relative was murdered in the 90s under the UNC, at no time did I blame Mr. Panday for her murder. There are some unhinged people out there who absorb the hateful and threatening comments that people make. I am totally amazed by the racist and hateful comments made about Dr. Rowley by “big” people who should know better, you would think, for no reason except his complexion because this was not so bad under Mr Manning, and we wonder how the society has changed, people look in the mirror.

  20. The Real Issue here is that TnT has bred a lot of hatred through ur Racist politics n Inefficient Justice system n n Religious indifference n which is not going to go away any time soon.
    Young Minds r being filled with HATE n let loose on John Public. This murder is not d first nor d last.
    This young man apologised for an Outburst of hate on Public media to the Family of the Prime Minister. TheOutburst shows d level of disrespect by a Young Mind to a very Esteemed Office n is a matter of great concern to everyone. He is now supported by so many.
    Should his family n his lawyers n supporters b sent an equal Horrifying Message, One wonders when this Nonsense will stop.
    TnT needs Prayer for those in Authority ( both Govt n Opposition) to stop d Hatred firstly amongst our Youth n amongst d population.

  21. Morning still waiting on the women groups to condemn the wish. Yet they remain silent. Yet not more than a year ago they march and jump up and even went international. Made a mayor step down, for saying be careful. They got vex for the PM stated he wasn’t in their bedrooms. Yet a man wishes rape and murder on tow women and no bell not even a whistle. So if I am logical the only time they come out is when it’s a PNM person saying the statement. Therefore all these groups are politically bias. As well as being politically motivated they are also class bias.

  22. I don’t know the legal details, and won’t be spending time going thru it. But, when I heard it read out on a news report my first thought was if that’s what they charge him with, he’s right to plead innocent to those charges.

  23. Roger Samuel, the only pl human beings that are not considered ‘kids’ are black people over the age of 3.

  24. Okay so what you are saying is although his post of suggesting the wife and daughter of the prime minister of a country should be raped and throat slit isnt wrong because the act uses the word telephone and not internet? Smfh allyuh on shit regardless of how much i dislike the man it is wrong to suggest someone rape and kill his wife and the fact he plead not guilty after apologizing for doing it sickens me to my stomach steupzzzzzzzz

  25. I do hope when T & T citizens wake up to find that their freedom of expression is sanitized and monitored by the state they do not take to the streets like our neighbour Venezuela…seem to me that T & T are not quite ready for social media.

  26. Well done well done. But where were u wen I got robbed where were u when my wife got robbed where were u when my sister got robbed where were u when my father got robbed many times where were u when my home got robbed….y don’t u take the ppl who checking ppl fb and put them on the roads so that ppl can be safe while walking in ur country and hopefully my son, mom and my dog don’t get rob they are the only three who didn’t get rob in my family….O wait i 4got that’s no profit 4 u…lol

  27. Oh …so now he is a boy……smh

  28. Some people just look for situation s to attack/be critical of those politicians they may not favour. In other words they reveal their true self. Why stray from the topic at hand. Was the goodly gentleman right to put up such a post without understanding the consequences is such posting whether it the Prime Minister’s family or an ordinary member of society”s family. You see people think that social media is there for them to say what they want, sometimes so offensive is the language that you wonder whether they understand how far and wide their post go.. If it is against the law then he must stand the consequences. We are all humans first with feels and politicians or whatever position one might hold after.

  29. This man is a disgrace…. Racist Asshole…A Threat is a Threat and on that grounds full punishment.

  30. Emir Crowne, someone suggested that “God will deal with you” should also qualify as a threat under the proposed cybercrime bill! Hahaha

  31. But,someone was charged for making threats when d other one was pm! So what

  32. All you fools who are using emotions and political biases need to understand that no crime was committed. So just shut your asses

  33. So, I am of the opinion that Mr. Mohammed can sue the state for a multitude of offenses.

  34. Victims have rights in Trinidad? I ask because my thinking is that one does not threaten rape or murder against anyone, neither friend nor foe. Maybe in the days of cavemen problems were solved with rape. Punitive rape in 21st Century society is completely unacceptable. Defending his commentary is just as bad. Yes he has folks rushing to support and/or uphold his rights but what of his victims? His intended targets? They don’t have the right to be free of fear? Victims don’t have rights in this country? He was in a bad mood so he penned a threat against women he didn’t know, women who had nothing to do with the crime which upset him, women he targeted because of their affiliation with Mr Rowley…rather than target the PM, he went after the women…he choose soft targets…why? Was he afraid to call out the authorities so he targeted their innocent relatives? Folks, defending this kind of criminal behaviour is a slap in the face for anyone who has ever encountered sexual assault. What he did is wrong.

  35. If someone had ” make a suggestion ” like that to you & yours, what would you have done about it LRB?

  36. What about ppl brandishing gunz

  37. I disagree that the State is overreaching. Imagine being a woman who is being threatened with rape and/or murder…does his emotional state and his freedom of speech allow for him to frighten, harass, intimidate and menace her thusly? Trinis love to launch into monotonous diatribes on why criminals should have rights…but what of the victims? The victims here don’t have the right to live a life free of advantageous fellas hiding in they mudder house to do this nastiness from behind a computer screen? Violence against women is highly prevalent in this country…now some are defending this little snowflake because his emotions and his rights outweigh those of his targets? What happened to all those campaigns to protect women this year, say no to violence and all that jazz? It’s not right for him to say this to anyone’s face, it will be treated as a threat. Equally so if done via mail or social media. I hope he and others like him learn from this.

  38. If his suggestion is to harm someone then I would perceive that as a threat. If it is that our laws do not cover threats over social media then this is a great time to start the process. At no point should anyone feel that freedom of speech permits you to make or suggest threats of harm to another.

  39. That’s not the REASON the state is prosecuting Rayad Mohammed, that’s how they are going about it.

  40. No talk about what should be done with the criminals who mercilessly murdered the ppl but it’s a federal issue as to the young man letting out his frustrations on Facebook which everyone does.Mind you those murderers actually committed the act,the young man did not commit anything that he said

  41. What is good for goose must be good for gander. If we are going to prosecute a “civilian” for an FB post made in anger, then I eagerly await the prosecution of government ministers, who have said blatantly worse on a public platform. #waitspatiently

  42. Is Keith Rowley and his government doing anything to protect us tax paying hard working citizens? The answer is no! But some guy made a statement (not a threat) due to frustration and anger over the videsh and his nanny murder thrown in with Rowley’s retarded statement and Omfg Keith Rowley and his family are now the victims and receiving all the justice they can get by prosecuting the hell out of this guy? Is personal security 24/7 courtesy tax payers money to the PM and his family not enough? All who saying teach this guy a lesson, I guarantee you if you report a death threat was made against you, you will not get swift justice like this! Again, where’s the murderers of videsh, his nanny and the many innocent people who were killed? If it was a politician child, trust me this country would have been under a SOE until the murderers were found! Leave this blasted guy alone and stop treating him as though he killed someone or made a threat against them!

  43. Looking at the tex message this guy posted about some body should do this & do that to some one is very bad ok but on the other hand the text message did not say THE PM OF T&T FAMILY hes just used a name that belong to many people so on an evidence part this guy will walk free & sue the state for millions of tax payers $$$$

  44. So I can send threats to people over fb and don’t worry? ?

    • Please go and look up the meaning of threat before making anymore illiterate statements, eh; perhaps you will be thinking that someone should ……….. me for this statement? Would that be a threat? Jes asking

    • This has nothing to do with literacy and everything to do with interpretation. The law will be interpreted according to the presiding representation from the judiciary. Not any of the ppl flapping their gums on fb. If you Google the definition of a threat and actually get past the first suggestion and really research you would see that his words can very well be interpreted as a threat.
      But after all this hot air on social media the courts will have the last say and we could talk from now until thy kingdom come…it won’t affect the decision of the court unless they using fb quizzes and polls to determine a result nowadays. This ain’t TV6 ppl meter…

  45. I now see a post that Mr Darrel Sookoo threatened then opposition Keith Rowley and why wasn’t he charged for this statement that he would seriously acted on his failure to his party and country

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