Sedition clause to clamp down on Facebook posts- Ramjattan

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After two years in a Special Select Committee, the Government is moving to reintroduce and pass legislation to protect against Cyber Crime. However, concerns over freedom of expression were raised about the Sedition section of the bill.

At a press conference on Friday, Chairman of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan who is also the Minister of Public Security, said the Bill does not affect freedom of expression.

“I want to make it clear that those who had indicated as if we are affecting freedom of expression, I have written major pieces on freedom of expression…and it is not going to, in any way, affect it,” Ramjattan told the media at the AFC’s head office, Railway Embankment, Kitty, Georgetown.

Of major concern is a provision in the Bill which makes it an act of sedition for someone to use a computer system to circulate messages deemed to excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government.

However, Ramjattan alluded to a subsection of the Bill which outlines that “comments that point out errors or defects in the Government, Constitution or Parliament, comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without, exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection,” among others does not constitute sedition.

“We felt at that point in time that we have covered that which would have given concern by virtue of putting in paragraph four (above),” Ramjattan said.

He added that given the concerns being expressed now, the Government will have to take a second look at that wording of the Bill.

But the Cyber Crime 2016 Bill he said, deals with sedition by use of Facebook and other social media platforms, something which he said was not previously included in the bill.

“The existing provision does not cover it because this is now sedition by use of computer. Right now the law that we have is largely sedition on the ground as it were –when you go and take a public platform, get a microphone and say things that can cause civil strife or if you write a letter in the newspaper that can cause civil strife and disorder but when you write it inside of Facebook or by use of a computer, that ingredient is what we now want to capture and that is what the Cyber Crime Bill is doing,” Ramjattan explained.

He went on to state that there is little means to charge a person for inciting strife by way of the internet.

Noting that he is leading the charge to have the Sedition clause remain part of the Guyana’s laws, the AFC Chairman said a major overhaul of the Criminal Offences Act will be needed to have it completely removed.

He alluded to England which abolished sedition but introduced other measures within other bills to ensure that anything which will cause civil disorder can be punished.

Ramjattan noted that Sedition is an offence that goes to the heart of civil strife in society and remains part of laws in the United States of America and most Commonwealth countries.

After the Government brought the Bill to the House on April 26, the Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), called for the scrapping of the sedition clause noting that people will not be able to express themselves freely and not have legal action taken against them.

The People’s Progressive Party also raised concerns about the clause and admitted that it “dropped the ball” when the Bill was before a select committee for two years.

At the AFC’s press conference, Minister of Telecommunications and Vice Chair of the AFC, Cathy Hughes said persons raising concerns had two years to do so.

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