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MONTEGO BAY, February 1, 2024 – The Surinamese Association of Journalists (SVJ) has publicly voiced its apprehensions regarding President Chandrikapersad Santokhi’s recent actions against the publication and distribution of the book ‘Corruption at the highest level’ by Gerard van den Bergh.
President Santokhi’s steps include a legal notice to halt sales at Vaco bookstore and a demand to the newspaper De Ware Tijd to remove a cover photo associated with the book.
The SVJ’s alarm is not triggered by the book’s subject matter or the individuals discussed within its pages. Instead, the association’s concern lies deeply in the potential infringement on fundamental rights—freedom of expression and press freedom.
These rights, enshrined in the Constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, are deemed crucial for the citizenry’s active engagement in society’s democratic processes.
Legal Boundaries and Presidential Overreach
While acknowledging that freedom of expression can be legally limited to protect against defamation or damage to someone’s honor, the SVJ stresses that such assessments and decisions should solely fall within the judiciary’s purview, an independent branch of democracy.
The association criticizes President Santokhi’s use of his political position to preemptively ban the book’s sales and censor media coverage, viewing it as a direct challenge to the separation of powers and an encroachment on press freedom.
Consequences and Compliance
The response from Vaco bookstore, which complied with the president’s summons without awaiting a judicial verdict, and the president’s selective targeting of De Ware Tijd, despite similar coverage by other media outlets, further underscores the SVJ’s concerns about the erosion of journalistic independence and freedom of expression in Suriname.
Call to Action
In light of these events, the SVJ commends De Ware Tijd for its staunch refusal to yield to presidential demands and urges all media houses in Suriname to adopt a united stance in defense of their pivotal role in society.
Additionally, the association appeals to the broader society, civil entities, and state apparatus to safeguard against any disruption of social harmony, emphasizing the importance of legal adherence and the preservation of public order and peace.
The unfolding scenario in Suriname poses significant questions about the balance between government authority and freedom of the press, prompting a critical examination of democratic principles and the safeguarding of fundamental rights in the face of political pressures. (WiredJA)