A clause in the Cybercrime Bill that is before Parliament for debate and passage has sparked a public outcry, with claims that it seeks to silence persons who criticize the Government.
Ironically, most of the pushback came yesterday via the internet as social activists bemoaned Section 18 (1) (a) of the bill. It states that a person commits the offence of sedition if they bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in Guyana.
According to Section 18 (1), a person can commit the offence whether in or out of Guyana by intentionally publishing, transmitting or circulating by use of a computer system or any other means, a statement or words, either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation, or other thing.
The penalty ranges from four months in prison to a life sentence where death occurs.
On Facebook, local writer and cultural advisor to the Government, Ruel Johnson described the section as troubling.
“If passed, this single section will be the most poisonous piece of anti-democratic legislation in our modern history,” Johnson posted.
He stated that disaffection towards government is par for the course of politics in a democracy and the internet remains the most powerful medium for ‘democratic expression we have’.
“This administration rode to power on a wave of disaffection incited against the PPP by persons like me using social media. To therefore include a provision like this in an anti crime bill is to criminalize the exact sort of dissent that was key to what was a necessary change in political administration. This should be roundly opposed by anyone claiming to express democratic credentials,” Johnson stated.
He pointed out that if the bill was put before a special select committee, and it has been around since 2016, the political opposition’s silence on Section 18 (1) (a) has been incredible and can only be taken for complicity, since the section represents an addition to their 2015 bill.
The 2016 bill is expected to be debated at the next sitting of the National Assembly. Before the debate takes place, a report from a parliamentary special select committee was tabled on Thursday.
The committee that included senior members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) reviewed the bill, and left the controversial clause untouched while suggesting amendments to other clauses.
Government Members on the committee included Basil Williams, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, who tabled the bill; Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security; Nicolette Henry, Minister of Education; Michael Carrington and Audwin Rutherford.
The opposition members on the committee were Gail Teixeira, Chief Whip; Clement Rohee; Anil Nandlall and Gillian Persaud.
Other members of the opposition have started to complain that the Section 18 (1) (a) was oppressive.
The Attorney General told Kaieteur News yesterday that the opposition could not be serious in their criticisms of the bill.
“There is nothing wrong with the provision. This thing has been widely consulted on. It was published on our website for months. We had consultations on it. The PPP had copies of the bill from the outset. The public sector, the private sector were also consulted. Then it went into the special select committee for two years. The PPP had stopped attending meetings,” Williams explained.
He stated that sedition is already part of the law, and the law essentially seeks to protect against persons who threaten to injure the Leader of the Opposition, the president, a government minister or any other person.
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