Attempt to regulate the internet exposes arrogance, thin-skinned people

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to a letter in the Stabroek News of May 2nd  2018 captioned `Clarifications needed on Cybercrime Bill’ by Mr. Wesley Kirton. The section of the bill in question referred to by Mr Kirton is as follows “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”.   First of all I have to refer to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] which came into effect in 1976. Guyana is a signatory to this covenant, but it has declined to ratify the protocols since it has decided not to enforce the abolition of the death penalty required by it, and the human rights section of the UN has observed more than once that Article 2(3) of the covenant is not being enforced according to the standards set by the ICCPR. Article 2(3) states inter alia that “each state party undertakes to ensure that any person, whose rights and freedoms as recognized by the covenant are violated, shall have an effective remedy. This was an opinion expressed by Lord Lester of Herne Hill on the Guyana situation in 1996. I bring this up since I would like to say that the slow working of our court system can in fact constitute a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Now that we have access to the Caribbean Court of Justice [CCJ] if one can get a decision in our courts, our situation could have changed since 1996. I can however find no evidence that it has.

The two articles which I would like to direct Mr. Kirton’s attention to are 19 and 20 of the ICCPR as follows,   Article 19 mandates freedom of expression and Article 20 mandates sanctions against inciting hatred. Even the flawed Socialist 1980 constitution of Mr. Burnham contains these rights protections, freedom of expression rights everywhere carry with them certain restrictions which are necessary 1. We must respect the rights and reputations of others and 2. We must refrain from inciting anyone to civil strife, civil unrest etc. The intention of the Guyana attempt to regulate the internet, is a strange occupation for us to be involved in, and shows the arrogance and thin-skinned people who parade as politicians in this country. In the act that we are contemplating introducing, the word disaffection is a strange word to use in the circumstance, since it does not convey an attempt to cause civil strife which is the intention of the Covenant on civil and political rights, but can be used to identify actions which may not at all be seditious e.g. If I say that this is a lousy government, I am certainly showing little affection for it, but I am not saying let’s get guns and cutlasses and attack the parliament, that would clearly be seditious, so I don’t like that word, it can mean anything in a court especially ours.  So the word disaffection is entirely the wrong word to use in ours.

Politicians must be aware that the right to criticize them is far wider than the right to criticize a private citizen, public officials by accepting public office must be aware that the latitude of comment and criticism on their every deed or action is far wider than for private citizens. This concept appears in a judgment of Justice Dyal Singh in Trinidad and Tobago in the action no. 4789 of 1982.

And then there is the landmark judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 1991 in the matter between Sunday Times V United Kingdom. “Freedom of expression constitutes one of the most essential foundations of a democratic society, subject to the prescribed exceptions of the covenant [i.e. respect the rights and reputations of others and not do any act which can disrupt public order, morals etc.] it is not only applicable to information and ideas which are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society.

Mr. Kirton should make the distinction between private communications and public ones, there are no restrictions against private communication, all restrictions to freedom of expression are in regards to public speech, and my interpretation of the proposed legislation is that it pertains to public communications only; It would be ludicrous for the Guyana Government to decide that they are going to restrict the freedom of speech of private communications between friends. Facebook can hardly be described as private communication.

But the internet must at some point be regulated and Great Britain and the US are currently seeking ways to do just that, therefore it is inevitable that it will at some time be done, the question is how can a poor country like Guyana seek to introduce regulations on the internet which both Great Britain and the US have found to be very expensive? Fix the congestion problem on the East Bank Highway with the little money we do have, resolve some of the issues facing GuySuCo then none of the thousands of people inconvenienced every day will not lose affection for the government. And when we do set about to fix anything, please let us make laws which we can effectively enforce, within our territory and jurisdiction.  We are constantly passing laws which are patently unconstitutional; for example the constitution now has an equality clause, but we passed a law here which effectively says that you cannot get prescriptive rights for Government land, but you can get it on private people’s land. There are many examples, the terrorist bill contains many unconstitutional and unenforceable laws and is repetitive and verbose which were comments made by the excellent Mr. Keith Massiah. By doing these things we are showing the world how illiterate our Guyana governments are, I said this more than 15 years ago. We have a Broadcast Act which is riddled with numerous violations to constitutional freedoms, for example Article 19 sub. (C) says that “while recognizing the special role of the state owned media, the broadcast industry is plural and open to fair competition” so all private broadcasters must compete fairly in the marketplace for advertising, but the state-owned radio and TV stations and state-owned newspaper are immune from that provision since they are special and can and do compete with private broadcasters unfairly, because not only are they in the marketplace competing for the limited advertising dollar, NCN is also receiving government subventions annually through the budget, in the case of the newspaper it receives unfair subventions for capital purchases.

No other democratic country with a functioning legal system, allows these inequalities and passes laws which are in collision with the constitution of the country.

If nothing else I am being consistent, when I was invited to step down from the board of GuySuCo to take up a position in diversification at Wales, I immediately ran into problems, since I had completely different views of GuySuCo’s diversification than Errol Hanoman and Earl John, it was their opinion that since I was being paid by the corporation, I must toe the corporate line and overlook all of the shenanigans which I saw going on and become one of the good old boys, I couldn’t do it, since I would be a hypocrite.

GuySuCo cannot diversify its operations using the failed managers of the company as they are doing even now, they have to seek help from specialists in the various fields outside of the company.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Vieira

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