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Jan 17, 2019

Activist Moses Sulph Successfully Sued Over FB Comments

Community Activist Moses Sulph was slapped with a forty thousand-dollar judgment in favour of former U.D.P. Minister Mark King.  King launched a civil suit against Sulph in 2018. The former Lake Independence Area Representative sued Sulph for posting several defamatory statements on his Facebook profile against him. Sulph attacked King’s reputation and company, Brints Security Limited. The matter went to trial, but Sulph’s witnesses could not prove the allegations and so Justice Sonya Young ruled in favour of King. It’s a landmark case that sets precedence, especially at a time when persons constantly use the social media platform without fact checking.  Hipolito Novelo takes a closer look at what this judgment means for the thousands of Facebook users in Belize.

 

Hipolito Novelo

Hipolito Novelo

“There are over two billion active Facebook users across the world. In Belize, the number is in the tens of thousands. For those who don’t know what Facebook is, it is a social media platform, originally intended to be a social network website. But over the years, Facebook has evolved into a necessity for individuals, organizations, groups and even governments. It’s one of the most important tools in this technological era, so much so that it can be used for any and everything even libelous statements. There is one Belizean who learned the hard way that before making statements, facts should be check and proof should be within his grasp. His name? Activist, Moses Sulph.”

 

Sulph was successfully sued by former U.D.P. Minister Mark King. The thirteen-page judgment was handed down on Tuesday by Justice Sonya Young who found Sulph’s Facebook statuses libelous against King and his company, Brints Security Limited.

 

Estevan Perera

Estevan Perera, Attorney for Mark King

“The defendants raised the defense of justification and fair comment. At the ruling, the judge indicated in her judgment that the defendants have failed to prove that the comments made were based on facts and failed to provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the comments that were made from him.”

 

In her determination, Justice Young wrote that Sulph’s motive, though misguided, seemed to have been intended to produce some positive results for persons he honestly thought had been wronged. Young could not find anything overtly malicious but the damage had been done and there must be vindication. Sulph now has to pay a total of forty thousand dollars- twenty thousand to King, ten thousand in aggravated damages and ten thousand in the cost of court.

 

Moses Sulph

Moses Sulph, Defendant

“Indeed it is a lesson learned in some aspects that you cannot expect justice as well. In the role of activism, you are going to lose some; you are going to win some. However, I am not convinced at this time that the matter is over because as I said before if there is a ground for appeal we will be appealing. If not, I will have to find a way to pay for the ruling against me. I don’t know where I will get the money but since I think I have been a public personality, defiantly I will be going to the public if it comes down to that to go fund this because I am not going to stop being an activist. I am going to always speak out against injustice.”

 

And even so, Sulph would not take back the statements he made. In fact, he says he does not regret making the statements.

 

Moses Sulph

“I will not apologize. It would have been easy for me to apologize in the beginning if this was not so. Even if the request from their lawyer was only to apologize and take down the post, I would have consulted with other people and say what they say. But that time it also for me to pay thirteen thousand dollars. So there is no way I could have done that. I learned my lesson that I must be more prudent.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Do regret making the post?”

 

Moses Sulph

“No, because I think, even though I may have lost in the court of law, I do win among the hearts of poor people.”

 

Payal Ghanwani

The judgment is a game changer. Facebook users are now placed on warning; any defamatory statement made against any person or entity must be backed up by proof, or face the consequences like Sulph.

 

Payal Ghanwani, Attorney for Mark King

“Just like a newspaper, Facebook has wide outreach. I would actually say that Facebook is able to reach more persons than the newspaper because Facebook is worldwide. Whereas certain newspapers are published here in Belize, when you take to social media that’s a worldwide outreach and in the case at hand, Mr. Sulph had admitted that he reposted his post in Belize Buy and Sell and that group alone has over one hundred and forty-one thousand members or it had at the time of the case.”

 

Estevan Perera

“If you were to say or comment about the service that was provided to you by any of these companies and it is the truth, then you should be fine because you would have the facts and you would have the evidence, you could state clearly what was your situation when you went to this business, what was your experience and you can comment and there is what exists as fair comment. You can say what transpired and what you feel about it, however, if you say something that greatly affects the reputation of that business, knowing that it is untrue and that you don’t have any facts to substantiate it, then yes you open yourself to a claim.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Sulph and any of agents or servants have been restrained in further publishing the same defamatory words or similar words concerning Mark King. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.”

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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