As Antigua & Barbuda slips further into totalitarian barbarism, free speech has become the next target of a government which is not embarrassed to demonstrate its contemptuous disregard for democratic concepts of human rights and universally established standards of decency.
As long ago as June 1999, Douglas W. Payne of the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported Antigua's manipulation of the media and its abuse of the legal system in his report into the Failings of Governance in Antigua and Barbuda.
Since that time, numerous reports to the US Congress and in the international press have recorded a long list of adventures into the various forms of corrupt practices, from collusion with R. Allen Stanford's Ponzi empire to money laundering, from expropriation of privately owned property to human trafficking. The total lack of transparency does not, however, hide the malfeasance from the public, as the physical results of the Government's actions become universally obvious, even as the system and the infrastructure of the country breaks down and begins to crumble.
By and large, the local press has done little more than report on a select number of issues, after the facts have been established by a Government's press release. Any discussion of these issues, subsequently entertained on radio or television, is usually done along strict party lines, where one side can do no wrong, and blames the other for all iniquities that have befallen the good people of Antigua. This balances the scales of what is perceived to be social justice and free speech.
Known to most Antiguans as "Magic," Ian Hughes has never accepted these parameters.
Ian "Magic" Hughes is a journalist, currently writing for the Caribarena.com website in Antigua and Barbuda. He has been reporting on various issues over the last twenty years, from sports to politics, both as a news reporter and as a commentator.
Along with disproportionate majority of Antiguans, he pressed for a change from the corrupt practices of the Antigua Labour Party and celebrated the 2004 victory of the United Progressive Party, which promised transparency, adherence to the law, and "Government in the Sunshine".
Unfortunately, history will record that in contrast to these pre-election promises, the culture of corruption on Antigua has flourished and grown ever stronger.
Magic did not hide his disappointment, nor did he advocate a swing back to what was originally unpalatable. He pointed out the shortcomings in both political camps - at the risk of having no powerful friends on either side to offer their protection.
Since early days of the development of what is now internationally recognised as the Wadadli Power Plant scandal, Magic has fearlessly demanded answers and pointed out the discrepancies between political rhetoric and tangible reality. He was "coincidentally" sent out to New York, by Antigua's Ministry of Sports, to represent Antigua's interests in sports throughout 2010, during which time his name never once appeared on any item published in Antigua.
When his visa expired, he returned to Antigua and continued to speak out against expropriation, against corruption, against Stanford, against alliances with unsavory governments and entities that could harm Antigua financially and in the eyes of the international community.
He urged transparency, fair dealing, respect for the law and compassion.
His latest articles dealt with the issue of the Antigua-Chinese connection and the questions raised by the apparent fraud committed by all participants in the development and building of the Wadadli Power Plant on Antigua.
These can all be found on Caribarena.com/Antigua.
Finally, he dealt with the issue of a botched effort by the Opposition to bring a vote of no confidence in Parliament against the Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, as a consequence to the stonewalling of the Power Plant issue by his administration.
Official press releases were sent out by both sides, followed by a radio appearance by the Attorney General Justin Simon, which destroyed any balance established between the facts and the spin to which they had been subjected.
On 11 June 2012 "Deal or No Deal," the last opinion piece authored by Ian Magic Hughes was published by Caribarena.com/Antigua.
It proved to be the final straw.
This has now cost Magic his freedom. He was arrested on June 14th.
Today, Magic is confined in Her Majesty's Prison on Antigua, into which he has been thrown after a farcical contortion of local law, following trumped-up charges of a sexual offence against a minor. A father of nine children, he has apparently been accused of "trying to kiss" a 13-year old girl by the girl's mother, who happens to be an Antiguan policewoman.
Magic shares a cell with twelve prisoners, some of whom have been found guilty of a variety of violent crimes, and some who are still awaiting a hearing after years of adjournments.
Initially kept in a police precinct jail for over 50 hours, Magic was released without payment of bail and told to return for committal proceedings on 3 July 2012.
Within a week, Antigua's Chief Magistrate issued a new warrant for his arrest, over-riding her fellow Magistrate's decision, refused to grant bail and remanded Magic to Antigua's central prison, rescheduling his committal proceedings before the initial Magistrate from 3 July to 21 August 2012.
As his application for bail to the Eastern Caribbean Court is being bounced from one date to another, a shackled Ian "Magic" Hughes is being paraded and exhibited in the public hallways of the High Court building.
The Government of Antigua & Barbuda should know that there are many more eyes currently focused on Ian "Magic" Hughes.
These belong to a number of individuals and entities concerned with freedom of speech, including Transparency International, Amnesty International and the International Committee to Protect Journalists, which have all been made aware of the situation.
If it is the intention of the "powers that be" to humiliate and discredit a man who speaks truth to power, they may have badly miscalculated the outcome of this action.
The damage continues to mount on the Government of Antigua, which is becoming increasingly deserving of its name - "Zimbabwe of the Caribbean."
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