A sledgehammer blow to free speech

first_imgDear Editor,The Cyber Crimes Bill with its obnoxious and evil “sedition clause” will unleash a sledgehammer blow to free speech and deny citizens their God-given right to criticise the Government of the day and demand accountability in public office.The sedition clause criminalises statements or words “either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation, or other thing, that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in Guyana.” This looks very strange to me.Who decides what words or statements evoke “hatred or contempt” against the Government? Who decides what words or statements “excite disaffection” against the Government? By what criteria will this be decided? Will the very same Government being criticised define what constitutes seditious words or statements?Honourable Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan contended that the Bill allows for criticisms of the Government and its Ministers, but sedition will apply for words or actions that cause civil strife, disorder and violence. Tell me, brother Ramjattan, is it sedition if legitimate criticism or exposure of gross Government crimes or misconduct provokes public anger and civil unrest?Also, when the sedition clause refers to “the Government established by law in Guyana” my alarm bells go off. Every election in Guyana from the 1950s up to now, even the last one in 2015, was tainted by public allegations of fraud. But whether or not there really was fraud, the winners of elections always became “the Government established by law”.My point is: Suppose there is a rigged election and this fraud creates public outrage with citizens calling, online and elsewhere, for the vagabonds to be resisted and kicked out. What is to stop that criminal regime from claiming to be “the Government established by law” and using the sedition clause to get rid of citizens who legitimately condemn and resist them?I do not know if it is by design or by accident, but I can see clearly that the proposed Cyber Crimes Bill and controversial sedition clause can be abused by corrupt politicians to suppress criticism of any sitting Government. As a long-time fighter to make Guyana a peaceful, democratic, free and open society, this is totally repugnant to me.I noticed that Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes said persons raising concerns had two years to do so before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee submitted its proposal. This delay does not matter to me; better late than never. We were very fortunate to find out about the controversial sedition clause in time to oppose it before it became law.I expected the sub-committee that crafted the Bill to focus on protecting the public from serious dangers on the Internet such as terrorist recruitment, extreme violence, pornography, paedophilia, gambling and online scams aimed at stealing people’s hard-earned dollars. I did not expect to see a sedition clause to suppress persons’ right to criticise and oppose governments that they have hired and they have a right to fire and criticise.Any Government that wants to shut down criticism and opposition on the Inter is a Government that needs to be questioned. Trying to block public discourse and journalism because of politics will only bring a backlash of international ridicule on our beloved nation from lovers of democracy worldwide.I call on the coalition Government to scrap the entire Bill and replace it with a better plan to deal with cybercrime and promote the peaceful and democratic development of Guyana.Sincerely,Roshan Khan Srlast_img read more