GPA says sections in Cybercrime Bill ‘criminalizing freedom of expression’ must go

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The Guyana Press Association (GPA) is the latest body to call for the removal of the offence of sedition from the Cybercrimes Bill because of the danger it presents to free speech.

According to clause 18 of the Bill, persons commit an offence of sedition when they “attempt to bring into hatred or excite disaffection towards the government.”

Newly elected GPA President, Nazima Raghubir

The GPA in a statement released in observing World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, among other things, called on the Government and the Opposition to “discuss and arrive at a consensus to delete from the proposed Cybercrime legislation provisions that will amount to institutionalisation of criminal defamation. Those provisions, we contend, must be removed because they are not in accordance with the global shift towards the removal of criminal defamation from the law books of several countries including a number of them in the Caribbean.”

According to the GPA, “Guyana will be retrogressing instead of progressing by entrenching the criminalisation of freedom of expression if certain sections in the Cybercrime Bill are enacted into law.”

Moreover, telephone giant GTT has also called for the removal of the offence of sedition.

In a correspondence dated April 25, 2018 and seen by this media group, GTT posited that “The offence of sedition seeks to limit the press and freedom of speech against the Government and should be struck from the draft as it would limit freedom of speech and thought of the people.”

Additionally, GTT questioned whether any service providers were consulted prior to the Bill’s preparation, while stressing the need for such consultation.

“What about the passage of the Data Protection Act?” the company queried. “In other Caribbean countries, the passage of the Data Protection legislation was needed as auxiliary legislation to support the efficiency of cybercrime [laws].

“There should be a clause that speaks to the violation of privacy as noted at Section 16 of the draft of cybercrime legislation in Trinidad and Tobago. There should be a clause in the draft that speaks to limiting the use of the data, taking as precedence from the draft of the Cybercrime Bill of St Vincent and Grenadines clause 25” said GTT.

Laid in the National Assembly since 2016, Guyana’s Cyber Crimes Bill had catered for, inter alia: illegal access to a computer system; illegal interception; illegal data interference; illegal acquisition of data; illegal system interference; unauthorised receiving or granting of access to computer data; computer-related forgery; computer-related fraud; offences affecting critical infrastructure; identity-related offences; child pornography; child luring; and violation of privacy among a slew of other offences.

A Special Select Committee had been working on the Bill for the past few years and their report on the Bill was presented recently. That committee was composed of Attorney General Basil Williams, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, Education Minister Nicolette Henry and parliamentarians Michael Carrington and Audwin Rutherford.

The Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was represented by Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Parliamentarians Clement Rohee, Anil Nandlall, and Gillian Persaud-Burton.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has since spoken out against the section of the Bill that entrenches sedition while outlining that his party’s support for the Bill was not expressed by their presence at the Select Committee.

State Minister, Joseph Harmon in defending the inserted clause said, among other things, that it was done in the interest of national security.

World Press Freedom Day is observed every year on May 3 and the theme this year is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law.”



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