What’s the rush! AG says Cabinet will look into concerns of Cybercrime Bill

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By Ramona Luthi

Attorney General (AG) and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams on Thursday stated that the sedition clause of the controversial Cybercrime Bill will be looked at, while highlighting that there’s no rush have the bit of legislation passed.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams

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.”

“We will look at it. We will take it to the cabinet. Just like how it took two years [to have it drafted], what’s the rush?” Williams questioned.

Nevertheless, he maintained that there is no reason for the concerns expressed as the sedition clause has always been a provision within our country’s criminal law.

In response to questions posed regarding stakeholders, as well as their own party within the Coalition Government- the Alliance For Change (AFC)- rejecting the specific clause in the Cybercrime Bill, Williams said they were negligent.

“Everyone had ample time…The AFC also had representatives in the Special Select Committee… The fact that there has been no objections for well over two years when everyone who’s saying no now had representatives there. They were all negligent. It’s poor leadership,” the AG posited.

AFC leader Raphael Trotman

AFC Leader Raphael Trotman was quoted in the media saying that he will not support the sedition clause in the Bill. He said “I can say that as presently constructed, I, as Leader of the AFC, cannot support Clause 18.1 in the Bill and will therefore be urging for an amendment, and if none is forthcoming, I will vote against it.”

Laid in the National Assembly in 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 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

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.

On Wednesday, the Guyana Press Association made calls for the removal of the offence of sedition from the Cybercrimes Bill because of the danger it presents to free speech. Prior to that telephone giant GTT, via a correspondence, expounded similar concerns.

The most recent criticisms over the move to include the sedition clause within the Bill came from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI).

President of GCCI, Deodat Indar

GCCI while expressing support for the Bill itself called on the “legislators to remove Section 18 (1) A of the Cyber Crime Bill” so that the it remains free of the “oppressive and archaic charge of sedition.”

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