“Sedition has been abolished in England and no one has been charged for sedition for nearly 130 years prior to its abolition”
Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has labelled the sedition clause in the 2016 Cybercrime Bill as a colossal attack on freedom of speech and the press.
The clause was not part of the 2015 version of the draft Bill, which was circulated by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) +Alliance For Change (AFC) Government. The clause was subsequently inserted in the 2016 Bill, which is now before the National Assembly to be debated at the next sitting.
“Sedition is one of those offences that are archaic, anachronistic and is really a relic of the past. An offence like sedition has no place in modern society and certainly in a society where there is a constitution that is the supreme law which guarantees free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a fundamental right.”
The former Attorney General noted that sedition has been abolished in England and no one has been charged for sedition for nearly 130 years prior to its abolition.
The overall thrust of the Bill is to make illegal, certain activities undertaken using a computer and 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, which was tabled by Attorney General, Basil Williams. 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.
Nandlall sat on the bipartisan parliamentary select committee, which reviewed the Bill. The clause survived the review. Nandlall noted that unfortunately, every time the committee sat it conflicted with his commitment to the court and as a result, he does not recall attending any of the seven committee meetings held over a two-year period.
He explained that in the current clause, there is no definition for what sedition is, but it is very broad, which makes it dangerous.
“We don’t need sedition in our country. In fact, sedition should be removed from the law books. In the year 2018, to be passing a law that contains sedition is a retrograde step. What that means is that the net is cast very wide; therefore almost anything that you say which would amount to causing disloyalty in a government, disaffection or causing people to hate the government can be seditious and it carries a life imprisonment or five year imprisonment,” Nandlall noted.
He explained that every day media houses broadcast and publish critical statements concerning the government. According to Nandlall, if the Bill is passed, reporters and their entities will be exposed to the peril of being hauled before the court, charged with the offence of sedition.
According to Nandlall, everyday opposition politicians as part of their political responsibilities are duty bound to expose Government excesses, corruption and incompetence. He stated that when this is done, naturally persons will have disaffection for the government.
“What we say will not excite love for the government. What we say will not excite affection; if anything, it will excite something that is hatred or close to hatred. It will excite ridicule. It will excite disloyalty, but that is what we have a freedom and responsibility to do, and that is what every citizen of this country has a right to do. Every news agency has a responsibility to expose corruption, executive lawlessness, maladministration and incompetence in a government. That is what we are doing in Parliament every time we sit in the Parliament,” Nandlall stated.
He noted that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) will challenge the constitutionality of the Bill if it is allowed to go through Parliament. It will not withstand
“Someone will have to challenge it in court because this can become a dangerous weapon to be used by politicians in Government against fellow politicians and against anyone who criticizes the government, including the press. This here is an assault.”
Local transparency watchdog, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), and social activist Ruel Johnson have called for the scrapping of the clause in the Bill.
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