“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 that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government.”
The above is the section of the proposed cyberspace bill on sedition which has been attracting much attention in the media and elsewhere over the past few days. I write to seek explanations and clarifications about this section of the proposed bill before I offer any opinion on it.
Now, unless I am ill informed, Guyana remains committed to free speech and freedom of the press, as guaranteed, if not under the Constitution, in several international conventions which the country has signed and ratified. So this means that the press remains free to criticize the government, Guyanese maintain the right to protest against government policies and persons like me continue to enjoy the right to express my views via letters to the editor. Nowhere have I seen or heard of any attempt by the government to reject these commitments.
However, this proposed new legislation, seems to suggest, in my view, that the right to criticize is only rejected if this is done by “use of computer system”. It also leads one to conclude that one can produce anti-government material such as videos, signs (pickets), texts etc. without being guilty of sedition but the circulation of such material via computer constitutes a crime.
So here are the explanations and clarifications I am seeking:
(A) As a frequent letter writer who transmits my letters via computer, am I committing sedition by sending a letter via e-mail criticizing the government to the media for publication (circulation)?
(B) If I post my handwritten letter (snail mail) would I be guilty of sedition?
(C) Does this new proposed legislation mean that newspapers can publish anti-government material in the printed editions but not on the electronic versions of the publication?
(D) If I post to social media e.g. my Facebook Page an article critical of the government which appears in the printed media but not on its electronic version (I scan it and post it) , am I guilty of sedition?
(E) Are newspapers in Guyana indirectly being prohibited from having electronic versions of their publications since these publications, including the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, from time to time publish letters, news articles and columns that can be construed to bring or attempt to bring “into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government.”?
(F) Is this legislation, if it becomes law, consistent with laws in other countries since it includes persons who may commit sedition (in Guyana) even while outside of Guyana? If I am charged and refuse to return to face the Courts could I be extradited or can Interpol list me as WANTED?
(G) Is this proposed legislation in violation of any United Nations Conventions or even its Charter?
These are some of the clarifications I need before commenting beyond the fact that “in this age of Trump” and the APNU/AFC and PPP, with this proposed legislation “any call for civility is a call for servility”. I got the last quote from a piece in the Economist, lest I be convicted of plagiarism.