Guyanese group: Strike sedition provision from proposed law

A Brooklyn-based Guyanese group has called for the repeal of a key sedition provision of the proposed Cybercrime Bill that is being considered by the Guyanese Parliament.

In an interview Tuesday with Caribbean Life, Rickford Burke, president of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID), said he was astonished by the proposed legislation, describing it as “unconstitutional and an offensive infringement on free speech.”

According to Guyanese-born Burke, section 18 (1)(a) of the bill makes it a crime of sedition, punishable by five years in prison, if a person — whether in or out of Guyana — “intentionally publishes, transmits or circulates by use of a computer system or any other means, a statement or words, either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation, or other thing, that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in Guyana.”

Burke said this section of the proposed law is intended to “suppress criticism of the government and, as such, is repugnant to democratic norms of a free and open society.”

Moreover, he condemned the international reach of the legislation as “repugnant to international law and a silly overreach outside of the jurisdiction of the Guyana government that is unenforceable and, therefore, bad law.”

He also said the bill is “an assault” on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Charter of Civil Society to which Guyana is a signatory.

The charter was enacted in the region on Feb. 19, 1997 by regional heads of government in St. John’s, Antigua.

Burke said the charter “binds CARICOM member-states to the ideals of a free press, open democratic process and respect for civil, political, cultural, economic and other rights.”

“This provision of the legislation is a breeding ground for despotism,” said Burke, referring to the proposed Cybercrime Bill in Guyana. “CGID, therefore, calls on the government of Guyana to strike it from the bill, or it will be an indelible black stain on the government, which has a healthy record on good governance thus far.”

The CGID president said it is “inconceivable and perplexing that the government has proposed legislation that severely undermines democracy, and which will inflict gaping, self-destructive political wounds, especially since its political leaders were champions of democracy when they were in opposition.”

At the same time, Burke said, while the current opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is “now feigning innocence, its members of Parliament made significant contributions to the construction of the abhorrent legislation during the Select Committee process in Parliament.”

He characterized the PPP’s contribution to the Bill as “disgraceful and unpatriotic.”

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