There is no telling how far Government will go to limit the freedom of speech if the Cybercrime Bill becomes law in Guyana. Following an objection in the National Assembly, the Bill was withdrawn from Parliament.
The leader of the opposition Bharrat Jagdeo says the PPP opposed the Bill even though members of the PPP, including the former Attorney General had approved the Bill in the Committee.
However, the leader of the opposition should be the last person to oppose the Sedition Clause in the Bill. Unless he is suffering from memory loss, then he should know that he used the Sedition Clause to file charges against Mark Benschop, Oliver Hinckson, Carol-Ann Munroe, her husband, GDF Captain Bruce Munroe, and a family friend, Leonard Wharton.
Benschop spent five years in jail even though he was set free by the court. The others were denied bail and spent about a year in prison until their cases were dismissed.
With each passing day, the Sedition Clause of the proposed Cybercrime Bill has attracted much attention in the media. The signs are ominous. The Bill represents a very worrying and repressive trend. It is the latest infringement on the dignity and fundamental rights of the people by the political elites, whose arrogance and contempt for the citizens of this country has become more apparent.
Many believe that after three years in office, the Government has begun to show its true colours. While the Government claims that it remains committed to free speech and freedom of the press, as guaranteed under the Constitution and several international conventions, which it has signed and ratified, yet the Sedition Clause has the potential to restrict certain freedoms of the people and the press.
The Sedition Clause is archaic and offensive and should be removed from Guyana’s laws. For centuries, it remained on the statutes in England until it was repealed in 2006. Legal minds say that this is so because the United Kingdom is now at a place where it feels comfortable to deal with issues in cyber space and the like.
The country has the necessary skills to cope with whatever comes up in the internet. Guyana has not reached that stage. The level of our internet monitoring is extremely low. We therefore cannot compare ourselves with those in the developed world who are comfortable with laws outside of the internet.
In Guyana, Section 18.1 of the Cybercrime Bill, criminalizes a person who, whether in or out of Guyana, publishes, transmits or circulates by use of a computer system, a statement or words, either spoken or written, text, video, image, sign, visible representation or other thing that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempt to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in Guyana.
If the Sedition Clause is not removed from the Cybercrime Bill and it becomes the law of the land, newspapers in Guyana, including the state-owned Guyana Chronicle and the privately owned Kaieteur News and others, could be indirectly prohibited from having electronic versions of their publications.
These publications, from time to time publish letters, columns, news articles etc. that can be construed to bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government.
The Bill can be abused by corrupt and unpopular governments to suppress public criticism of their policies. It deliberately seeks to deny people, especially opponents of the Government the right to expose wrongdoing and demand accountability.
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