The Working People’s Alliance (WPA), one of the political parties that forms part of the coalition Government, is the latest partner to speak out against the sedition clause enshrined in the Cybercrime Bill.
Clause 18 of the Bill states that: “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 excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in Guyana.”
Disaffection, according to the Bill, includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
A person who commits the offence under this clause is liable on conviction on indictment to serve up to five years or as much as life in prison.
Despite its adoption by the Select Committee of the National Assembly, WPA says it is against retaining the offence of sedition on the law books of Guyana.
According to the WPA “political discontent is the cornerstone of democracy and to tamper with it is a denial of individual human rights. Any law which seeks to criminalize free speech or to appear to tamper with it in any form is a blow to the will of the people. A sedition law has no place in a modern democratic society. It is a historical legacy of colonialism and should have been abolished at the time of political independence. We cannot be independent if we still use the “tools of the Crown” to silent dissident voices or threaten them to stay silent in the face of authoritarian behavior from those elected to govern. This would be a betrayal of the anti-colonial struggle of the working people of Guyana”
While calling on Government to rescind the sedition law, the WPA outlined that there “are adequate provisions in other acts such as the Racial Hostility Act to treat with the relevant cases that may arise.”
Attorney General Basil Williams has since said that the sedition clause in the proposed Cybercrime Bill will be looked at, while highlighting that the Government is in no rush to have that piece of legislation passed.
Prior to the calls by the WPA, the Alliance for Change (AFC), which is also part of the coalition Government, in a statement through its Leader Raphael Trotman called on the controversial clause to be deleted, citing that if it wasn’t they will vote against it in the National Assembly.
AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan however, in a dissenting opinion from that of his party leader, said that the sedition clause is part of Guyana’s existing law and that the clause does not prevent online users from being critical of the Government.
“We were very careful to ensure that we put a subparagraph that says if you criticize the Government it is not sedition, so we put limitations to what it is,” he said in Government’s defence.
The provisions however, excited worry among social media users who took to that medium in their numbers to register concerns that their freedom of expression would be trampled.
The political Opposition has also spoken out against the sedition clause, with its leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo denying categorically, suggestions that the Parliamentary Opposition supported the insertion of the controversial clause 18 in the Cybercrime bill.
According to Jagdeo, the initial purpose of the Bill was to protect Guyanese and their children from the dangers of cyberspace.
Instead, he explained, the Bill has been converted by the Government to one that, besides the original purpose, protects their [Government’s] own interests.
Since the introduction of the legislation, several organisations such as the Guyana Press Association, GTT, Georgetown Chambers of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and other stakeholders have called for the sedition clause/s in the Bill to be removed.