Sedition and seditious libel should be removed from Guyana’s laws

Dear Editor,

The sedition clause  (clause 18) in the cybercrime bill has been rightly and widely condemned.  There seems to be a persistent misunderstanding among politicians about the nature of government. Ministers and MPs are our servants. They have a duty of loyalty to us, the citizens of Guyana. We don’t have to be loyal to them. We vote them in. We vote them out.  We (and they) have to be loyal and patriotic to Guyana, our beloved country.  That loyalty to Guyana takes priority over any loyalty that an individual might choose to give to whoever happens to be the government of the day.

We should be proud that in Guyana we are free to criticise. We have superb political cartoonists whose lampooning of government is part of the lifeblood of democracy. The discourtesy of ministers, the atrocious self-serving behaviour of parliamentarians, the waste of public money, the inability to keep citizens, especially women, safe in this country, the inability to grasp the threat of climate change,(and so on), all suggest that we need more criticism of government, not less. The government should reflect carefully on the US Supreme Court’s view “…..that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

When criticism is truthful, it is more likely to excite ill-will and disaffection toward the government, and rightly so. For example, simply describing the oil deal with Esso and its partners seems to be enough to make people feel contemptuous of and disaffected towards the government. That would amount to sedition under clause 18. Would the IMF people also be guilty of sedition for their comments on the oil deal? (The clause covers people in and out of Guyana). Sedition enables a government to stifle even the truth.

This proposed sedition clause looks suspiciously like the widely condemned Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, drafted by that arch-British Imperialist Thomas Macaulay, imposed on British India in the 1870’s and used against Mahatma Gandhi who described it as “designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.” Sedition is incompatible with a liberal democracy and with the modern idea of the rule of law. Only dictatorial regimes try to shut people up. Sedition (and seditious libel) should be removed from Guyana’s laws.

The proposed sedition clause is almost certainly unconstitutional. If it reaches the courts and is struck down, the government is, deservedly, going to look very silly indeed.

Yours faithfully,

Melinda Janki

Attorney-at-Law

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