Kaieteur News – The President of Guyana waxed lyrically about his government’s respect for the media in his address to a World Press Freedom Day event earlier this year. During his presentation, the President assured the journalists of his government’s support for the media.
That support is now being called into question by the recent incident in which the police turned up at the Stabroek News to question the newspaper about the legality of a source of information concerning a local logistics company which a Minister of the government was once involved with.
The Guyana Police Force must explain who it was that filed the report which led to them visiting Stabroek News to enquire as to whether the newspaper was in possession of stolen documents. Someone had to file the report which triggered the investigation.
The police must also explain the basis on which it decided to investigate any such report. The police cannot simply go into a media house to investigate source documents. The possession of such documents is considered as privileged and there has to be ample cause for investigating such sources.
The police would need to be satisfied that there was reasonable suspicion; first that documents were stolen from a business place and, second, that the Stabroek News was in unlawful possession of stolen documents. Was the Police Force so satisfied?
The investigators need to ask themselves why anyone would break into a business place to steal documents, especially documents which are public in nature and which reveal no wrongdoing. And why would thieves steal documents which can be obtained publicly from the Court by anyone?
While the police have a right to pursue criminal investigations, there is equally the obligation to ensure that in so doing the right to freedom of the press is not infringed.
The police are required to be cautious when pursuing investigations which relate to a journalist’s source or sources. In Nagla v Latvia (2013), the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that the right of journalists not to disclose their sources could not be considered a privilege dependent on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of their sources, but rather as an intrinsic part of the right to information that should be treated with the utmost caution. In this case the ECHR found that the police had failed to properly balance the interest of securing criminal evidence against the interest of protecting the journalist’s freedom of expression
The actions of the Guyana police therefore should have been on reasonable suspicion that the newspaper was in possession of stolen property. It is respectfully submitted that the mere filing of a report that an office has been burgled and documents removed does not constitute an ample basis for suspicion that the newspaper is in possession of stolen property. As explained earlier, the police needed to question why would someone steal documents which were non-incriminating.
The actions of the police were disproportionate to the public interest which they were purportedly protecting, especially considering that the said documents which Stabroek News obtained could have been paid for at the court by any citizen. No reasonable basis therefore appears to exist for the police’s visit to Stabroek News.
The actions of the police therefore constitute an affront to freedom of expression. The Stabroek News believes that the actions of the police were intended to intimidate the newspaper. If this is indeed so and from all appearance is likely – then the police should be condemned for acting without reasonable cause.
If the police felt, justifiably, or suspected that the newspaper had in its possession correspondence that was stolen, it should have approached the courts for an order to conduct a search. Instead, the police sent investigators to question the journalist and spoke to the editor in chief. It is hard to fathom how the police could be investigating stolen documents without a search warrant? To question a journalist or editor about how it came into possession of correspondence, amounts to an interference in the work of the press and is thus a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression is a protected right under Guyana’s constitution. No one has a right to interfere with the right of anyone who is exercising a right to free expression. While there are exceptions to this general rule, those exceptions are qualified under case law, and in the instance concerning the present case would require reasonable cause and proportionate actions, none of which, it is respectfully submitted, exists.
The actions of the police therefore must be scrutinised. This action, comes on the heels of two suspected police officers being caught trailing the Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton, an act which was questioned even by the Minister of Home Affairs. The visit to Stabroek News by the police is an ominous development for press freedom.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
Jun 30, 2022Kaieteur News – Regal Legends will be the only Guyanese team that will be competing in the New York Softball Cricket League Independence Cup which is set for July 1-3 at Queens and Brooklyn....
Jun 30, 2022
Jun 30, 2022
Jun 30, 2022
Jun 29, 2022
Jun 29, 2022
Kaieteur News – My column was already in when the protestors physically attacked Indian vendors and robbed them at... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]