Antigua and Barbuda: Overview of civic space situation
Freedom of association is protected in Antigua and Barbuda’s constitution and generally upheld by the government in practice. While there is an active and diverse civil society sector, organisations are inadequately funded and reportedly often influenced by the government.
In July 2022, the High Court of Justice for Antigua and Barbuda struck down discriminatory legal provisions that criminalised same-sex relations. The country’s legislation had punished same-sex relations with up to 15 years in prison. In their ruling, the court found that these laws violated several rights, including the right to freedom of expression. This court decision took place as a result of civil society efforts to challenge anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in the Caribbean. In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, claimants included civil society organisation Women Against Rape which provides services to the LGBTQIA+ community.
In September 2022, Frontline Defenders and the Global Legal Action Network expressed concern about repeated targeting of human rights defenders resisting luxury tourism developments in Barbuda. The organisations denounced that 22 defenders faced charges of trespassing in connection with their activities to protect the environment. The groups also noted that environmental defenders in the region had faced stigmatisation, harassment, intimidation and criminalisation from authorities since 2017.
Our joint statement with @FrontLineHRD regarding 22 Barbudans in court this Thursday facing charges after inspecting construction work in a national park. We are calling for charges to be dropped and an end to harassment of land defenders in #Barbudahttps://t.co/NwoqHw7zzv— Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) (@GLAN_LAW) September 27, 2022
Freedom of assembly is protected in Antigua and Barbuda’s constitution, and generally respected in practice. However, the Public Order Act establishes the requirement of a permit from the Police Commissioner for public marches and meetings. Demonstrations without permits are considered illegal. This is not in line with the international standard, which advises against the adoption of authorisation procedures for the exercise of this right.
In August 2021 the police used tear gas to disperse a protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. One protester was detained. Authorities claimed that the protesters had not been issued the necessary permit, however other demonstrations were allowed.
Freedom of expression and of the press are guaranteed by the constitution and are generally respected. However, under the ‘Libel and Slander Act’, seditious libel is a criminal offence punishable with fines and imprisonment “with or without hard labour” in some cases. The same legislation also criminalises possession of publications considered seditious, which may carry prison sentences and fines. This leaves journalists at risk of criminalisation for their work.
As reported by the Office of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2021, public officials in the country sometimes publicly reprimand the media, for example by reminding outlets of “debts”. The organisation said it received information of various attacks on journalists critical of the government. The state media is used to promote the government’s agenda, sometimes censoring information from the opposition or civil society.
Although Antigua and Barbuda adopted a Freedom of Information Law in 2004, the IACHR reported that the legislation has not been implemented effectively.