Guyana Bar condemns racist editorial in state paper

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) yesterday called on President Donald Ramotar to dissociate himself from a racist editorial in the July 17 edition of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle and other such content carried by the newspaper.

“If his disagrees with these reprehensible views, he must quickly and publicly disassociate the Government and himself from them. He should take disciplinary action against those responsible for the publications; to do otherwise would be an endorsement of those sentiments,” the association said in a statement. Ramotar, who is also the Minister of Information, has responsibility for the state-owned Guyana National Newspapers Limited, the publishers of the Chronicle.

The GBA emphasised that the apparatus of the state, including the state media should not be used to promote racial hatred and declared that such abuse should stop immediately. It also pointed out that such publications are unlawful.

In recent days, a letter to the editor and an editorial published in the Guyana Chronicle appear to be inciting racial hatred and perpetuating a stereotype of young Guyanese of a particular ethnicity as criminals, the GBA noted. “We find this offensive, as racism in any form is reprehensible,” the Bar Association said.

The letter by Ted King, headlined ‘Blue Caps is new arm of PNC’ appeared on July 15 and the writer urged the checking of statistics “on which ethnic crowd is doing the criminal acts…One section of the community works very hard and saves its money for a better future for self and family, but it appears it is working to save the money for criminals, who just come in with guns and take it all.” The writer also made several other denigrating statements.

“The letter is factually misguided in every respect and racist,” the GBA said.

The July 17 editorial ‘Youth, Politics and criminality’ covers similar territory, perhaps more political but equally racist, the GBA noted.

The association pointed to the Racial Hostility Act, Cap 23:01 section 2(1) of which says: “A person shall be guilty of an offence if he wilfully excites or attempts to excite hostility or ill—will against any section of the public or against any person on the grounds of their or his race — by, (various public means) or by means of written (including printed) matter or pictorial matter published by him.”

This Act was amended in 2002 to provide for punishment on summary conviction of a fine of five hundred thousand dollars and to imprisonment for seven years, the GNA noted. The body pointed out too that Section 2(4) also provides that the proprietor, printer, publisher or editor of any newspaper, or the printer of any other printed document, in which any particular matter has been published, shall be presumed himself to have so published that matter unless he proves that such publication was made without his authority, consent or knowledge and did not arise from want of due care on his part.

The right of all sections of the Guyanese people to be free from racial hatred is also enshrined in the Guyana Constitution which imbues the state with a responsibility to encourage people of all races to live in harmony and peace. This is set out in the preamble. The fundamental rights and freedom provisions which enshrine freedom of expression (Article 146(3)) expressly exclude from protection as free speech, hate speeches or other expressions in whatever form, capable of exciting hostility or ill will against any person or class of persons, the GBA stated,

Article 160(A) of the constitution also provides that: “All persons, institutions and political parties are prohibited from taking any action or advancing, disseminating or communicating any idea which may result in racial or ethnic division among the people.”

“The Guyana Chronicle’s failure to prevent such letters from being published, as well as explicitly encouraging such statements in its editorial suggests a dangerous, unlawful and offensive state of affairs. This matter cannot be easily brushed aside. At a time when our major political parties have an obligation to continue to reach beyond ethnic differences, these publications seek to empower the minority of Guyanese who practise racism and strengthen the latent racists among us,” they declared.

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