Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes vehemently criticized civil society groups and the political Opposition, which have strongly condemned Government’s push to include the sedition offence as part of the Cybercrime Bill (2016).
At an Alliance For Change (AFC) press conference on Friday last, Hughes said the Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups need to be questioned about their public stance since the Bill was before a bi-partisan Special Select Committee of Parliament since 2016.
“The question needs also to be asked; why aren’t we as a country, as civil society, as NGOs not going through the proper channels of presenting any kind of concern you have because the channels exist? Therefore, in two years, if you don’t come forward and say anything, you are the one that has to consider that you have not performed to the level you should with regard to the stakeholders you represent,” Hughes stated.
Hughes also pointed out that four members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) sat on the Parliamentary Committee that reviewed the Bill, but only after a groundswell of criticisms, called for the sedition clause to be scrapped.
The PPP admitted that their Members of Parliament on the Committee, including former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, dropped the ball during the review of the Bill.
“The fact that the major opposition party, after two years in that committee can say that they dropped the ball and whoever was busy had court and had cases (is significant); Are we serious about this?” Hughes questioned.
Criticisms of the Government’s decision on the Bill has also emanated from Transparency International Guyana Inc. (TIGI), the Guyana Human Rights Association, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and social activists, including Mark Benschop, who was previously charged for sedition under the PPP administration.
“Every single organization that has concerns regarding the current design of the Bill and the contents had an opportunity to write to the Parliamentary Select Committee and to ask to go in and make a presentation to that committee,” Hughes said.
AFC Leader, Raphael Trotman has publicly stated that he will not support the sedition clause in the Bill. However, AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan said he is leading the charge to keep sedition part of the Bill and to have the offence remain in existing legislation.
Opponents of the Sedition clause have further argued that it threatens freedom of expression, has no place in modern society, and suggested that Guyana adopts England’s approach by removing it from the law books.
“Unless we want to now do a major overhaul of our Criminal Offences Act, like the English people did and then they abolished sedition; then fine. I am leading the charge in relation to maintaining it in our books,” Ramjattan has stated.
He assured that the controversial Bill allows for criticisms of the Government and its Ministers without sedition occurring. However, he said that sedition will apply where someone has undertaken actions to cause civil strife, disorder and violence via utterances.
The AFC is the smaller of the two factions in the coalition Government which tabled the Bill in 2016. The party had three of its members that included Ramjattan on the Parliamentary Committee.
AFC MPs Audwin Rutherford and Michael Carrington were part of the committee.
In light of the growing concerns, Government has promised to review the Bill.
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