We are all fair game

20140104ianaContinuing its recent attacks on the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), the PPP is currently waging a public campaign against the recent hiring of Richard Francois as the commission’s Public Relations Officer (PRO).

It says that he has been “openly supportive of the opposition” and had “previously used his position and authority to display biased action against leading members of the PPP.” Although it is yet to tell us about these engagements with leading PPP members, it has so far referred to postings on his Facebook page along with the “numerous anti-PPP” letters published in his name in the Kaieteur News to substantiate its claims of “his lack of professionalism” and “association with the opposition.”

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee appeared at a party press conference on October 8 to say that the PPP was objecting to Francois’ appointment.

He told reporters: “…our party continues to have these concerns regarding Mr Francois’ ability to discharge his duties professionally and the political influence he could exert in the interest of the party he is aligned to.

It is worth mentioning that the PPP never acknowledged Francois had been working with both the Ministry of Education as a special consultant or the Ministry of Home Affairs via the police force’s strategic unit prior to his appointment at Gecom.

But here’s the thing: The PPP is not interested in protecting the integrity or neutrality of the office of the PRO at Gecom. This campaign against Francois is meant to strangle free speech and impose fear among the professional class in Guyana who as independent thinkers, have dissenting opinions, but are usually silent to avoid government blacklisting.

To align with any cause or movement that the PPP is against means you either forego your right to work freely or the freedom to choose where you work. This means that civil society bodies, such as the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the Transparency Institute of Guyana are off-limits.

There have been many instances where this government mercilessly campaigned against citizens who have aligned with civil society groups, blocking job opportunities and flexing its repressive muscles to revoke appointments. I’d mention names if I had the permission to.

In seeking to justify its objections to Francois, the ruling party has had to tread carefully: It acknowledges the right of citizens to “favour” a political party—though it hasn’t proven which party Francois supposedly favours—while questioning his ability to exercise impartiality in the performance of his duties.

Article 40(1) (b) of the constitution recognises the right of every person in Guyana to “freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association….”

The constitution states that these freedoms are subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest. What it doesn’t say is what has come to be accepted as an unwritten proviso, understood and adhered to by a large amount of our citizens, that is, that these freedoms are also subject to them not being exercised against the PPP.

For years, the PPP has been selling the myth that anyone who either voices disagreement with and or challenges its governance on any issue is in league with the opposition to see it out of office.

“Either you’re with us or you’re against us,” is the thinking behind this reaction and successive PPP/C administrations have not been shy about silencing their critics.

As a result, people are afraid. They are afraid of being shut out from jobs. They are afraid of losing jobs or being passed over for promotions. At a personal level, I’ve also experienced the “you can’t get a government scholarship” and or “position”, but that’s fine. I have absolutely no complaints based on how things have turned out.

In short, the PPP has relied upon these fears to keep people quiet and submissive. When you analyse this further, it’s clear that fear has been more politically successful for the PPP than any other weapon in its attack arsenal.

When do we say to this government that we are tired of the restrictions on our fundamental rights, the official intimidation and the petty and discriminatory attacks? We can’t have this government determining when we must speak, what to say, and who we must support.

I do not know Richard Francois, but I could be Richard Francois. This man could be anyone of us. In fact, we are all fair game now given that the PPP has for years been allowed to trample upon our democratic rights.

So what has Richard Francois said? He has written a few letters and was active on Facebook leading up to the 2011 general elections. On November 25, 2011 (3 days before elections) he posted a note on Facebook titled, “After Destra leaves Guyanese have a government to change.”

He wrote: “Remarkably, the incumbent PPP party excelled this campaign season in demonstrating its dexterity at gutter politicking. Party members took their cues from non-other than President Jagdeo… on November 28 Guyanese must go to their respective polling stations and humble the PPP. This Election Day Guyanese must vote for Change.”

He continued: “There are two very impressive opposition parties that both have comprehensive and realistic plans for rescuing this nation from its free-fall into the abyss of doom. Keep a clear head and ensure that you be that agent of change that Guyana so badly needs.”

It’s obvious that Francois is civic-minded and also, unafraid of sharing his political views. But he is in the minority and his dissenting voice is not backed up by a louder chorus of opinions which differ from the PPP. Consequently, he becomes an easy target.

If the government was inundated with questions about how it is managing our country and more people found the courage to speak freely, the PPP would have to attack a new Richard Francois every few days.

This attack on Francois indicates that now, more than ever before, we need to send a strong message of protest to the PPP, expressing our right to free speech, our right to dissent from the official party line and also, to reject the repressive culture of governance that it practices.

More important, the army of keyboard warriors who reside on Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections of our various news media need to start channelling their energies to the real battles on the ground and to confront this government over its naked attack on our civil liberties.

 

Have a question or comment? Connect with Iana Seales at about.me/iseales

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