Apr 29, 2018 News
…Says both political parties have failed to address it since 2016
Local transparency watchdog, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), has called for the scrapping of the sedition clause in the Cybercrime Bill which is currently before the National Assembly.
The clause has survived a bi-partisan parliamentary special select committee which reviewed the 2016 Bill that was tabled by Attorney General, Basil Williams.
President of TIGI, Dr. Troy Thomas, told Kaieteur News that it is surprising that the clause has survived the committee’s review.
“When we read the clause as it is in the Bill, I don’t know why in this day and age where we have a democratic system of governance, leaders can believe that this clause is reasonable. What it comes down to is you saying something against the Government and then you are guilty of sedition. That is just nonsense. There is no other way to describe that.”
The overall thrust of the Bill is to make illegal, certain activities using a computer and over the internet, such as child pornography, cyber bullying, theft of data, and revenge porn among others.
However, there are concerns about aspects of the Bill. The most contentious is Section 18 (1) (a) of the Bill which indicates that a person commits the offence of sedition if he brings or attempts 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.
Dr. Thomas noted that the inclusion of the clause takes Guyana back to ‘the dark days’ when some persons fled Guyana out of fear of retribution for speaking out against the Government.
“That is what we are going back to because people can’t express themselves freely and not have legal action taken against them. It is also rather surprising that the Bill went through a committee of both the executive and the opposition and has survived whatever discussions they have had up until now. It just makes me wonder about the people who are in the leadership position to think that it was reasonable in this day and age,” Dr. Thomas pointed out.
He described the clause as similarly backwards compared to the recall legislation for Members of Parliament passed some years ago.
“I think this cyber crime Bill is right up there where we are rolling back some very basic provisions that the democratic systems guarantee. People should be able to say ‘I don’t like the Government or they are doing this and I don’t like it’ without being charged for sedition and I think this clause is going to restrict freedom of expression. They have to take it out,” Dr. Thomas noted.
The 2016 Bill is expected to be debated at the next sitting of the National Assembly. The parliamentary select committee that reviewed the Bill included senior members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
A report from the committee was tabled in Parliament last Thursday which showed that while several amendments were proposed, the sedition clause was untouched.
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.
Following the initial public outcry following the release of the committee’s report, members of the opposition have started to complain that the sedition clause is oppressive.
The Attorney General told Kaieteur News that there is nothing wrong with the provision.
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