Eyewitness: Snagged…

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…by PNC’s artifice

Back in 2018, the PNC Government received widespread condemnation when they drafted and debated a draconian bill on Cybercrime in the National Assembly. The concerns centred on the old Common Law crime of sedition being dragged into social media. Section 18 (1) of the bill stated: “A person commits an offence of sedition if the person, whether in or out of Guyana, intentionally publishes, transmits or circulates by use of a computer system, a statement or words, either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation, or other thing, that (a) brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in Guyana.”

Imagine that!! Anyone criticising the Government and brings “contempt” towards them could’ve been criminally charged with sedition!! So, if in 2020 folks accused the PNC Government of attempting to rig the elections, they could’ve been thrown into the slammer for five years. Since, by then, Granger had already put James Patterson in place at GECOM, this isn’t just idle speculation. Fortunately, Granger and company had to bow to the intense pressure and Art 18 (1) was excised.

But the amended Cybercrime Act (2018) Granger signed into law in August 2018 still enumerated a host of activities disseminated over “computers” as “criminal acts”. As such, these by definition were crimes against the State for which the Police could then take action by arresting transgressors and having them tried summarily in the Magistrates’ courts. In this case, the punishment would be three years’ imprisonment with a fine of $5M. If the person was charged indictably, the matter would go to the High Court and on conviction a fine of $10M and imprisonment of three years would be imposed.

One of the retained acts enumerated in Art 19 (2) declares: “A person commits an offense if he uses a computer system (a) to publish or transmit electronic data…with intent to humiliate, harass or cause substantial emotional distress to another person.” Now what this did was to make defamation that is usually pursued as a civil matter by the party impugned for damages now become a criminal matter that brings in the Police and jail time!!
And this is what has now been tested when Sports and Culture Minister Ramson went to the Police to point out he’d suffered “emotional distress” after a Facebook broadcaster called him a “terrorist” and a “murderer”. The fella – a fervent supporter and defender of the PNC – was arrested and placed on $100,000 station bail. As these matters go, he’ll soon be charged and brought before the courts.
As old people say, “All smart fly does end up in cow backside”!!

…by abusing “free speech”

Your Eyewitness is quite pleased that Minister Ramson – the scion of a noted legal luminary and a lawyer himself – raised the matter. With the cybercrime law on the books, he was amazed that so many persons were getting away with “verbal murder” over cyberspace. Especially with a host of Facebook hosts pushing the PNC’s scorched-earth policy against the PPP.

Now, in democracies, we must acknowledge the sanctity of “free speech”. But as with every right, this right isn’t unlimited and must be balanced against the rights of other citizens. There’s the old saw: “the right to swing your arms ends at the tip of my nose”! Or as expressed by a US court, you don’t have the right to yell “FIRE!!!” in a crowded theatre. Free speech shouldn’t be incendiary speech!

When a public figure’s involved, there’s some wriggle room under the doctrine of “fair comment”. But it’s nullified if the statement is made with “actual malice…with knowledge of or reckless disregard for its falsity”.
Which the Facebook warrior clearly displayed!

…and bullet dodged?

Imagine the broadcaster – who claimed Ramson was “a murderer and terrorist”, because the latter’s “boss” was one – is a former Presidential Guard!
Ramson’s boss is the President!