Wednesday 30 September, 2020

Opposition urges Gov't to support repeal of Sedition Act

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to change his views on the Sedition Act.

She issued the call as members of the House of Representatives received copies of the notice and the Private Member’s Bill she submitted on Wednesday.

Persad-Bissessar gave notice to the Clerk of the House of her intention to introduce The Sedition Repeal Bill, 2019, which seeks to repeal the Sedition Act, Chap. 11:04. 

The explanatory statement of the Bill states that The Sedition Act, which came into force in April 1920, is inimical to the tenets of a modern constitutional democracy.  The Clerk of the House circulated copies of the notice and the Private Member’s Bill to Members under Standing Order 60 (2) of the House of Representatives.  

On Thursday, Dr Rowley responded saying if the Bill is repealed, it ought to be replaced with something else. He also said that the Sedition Act is in place to prevent hate speech which has reared its head in our diverse society.

"The recent utterances by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, as well as events that have occurred under this administration highlight a disturbing trend of attempts to silence detractors and opponents of the Government."

"This is entirely unacceptable, and there is growing fear and uncertainty amongst the population about their ability to voice their concerns or frustration with the way the current Government is handling the country’s affairs," she rebutted.

Persad-Bissessar also sought to defend the media which has faced negative criticism from the Rowley administration.  

"On a regular basis, members of the media are criticized, chastised and embarrassed by members of the Rowley-led regime, and the same treatment is meted out to columnists, letter writers and even people expressing themselves on social media."

"Freedom of speech is a hallmark of a thriving democracy, and efforts should be made to encourage and foster public discourse on national issues," she stated. 

She also questioned whether more charges will be laid against people who criticize the Government, alluding to the recent arrest and charge of Public Services Association President Watson Duke.

However, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has been adamant that the Government was not involved, adding that the decision to charge individuals lies with the Director of Public Prosecutions, an independent body.

Still, the Opposition Leader said she would defend free speech.

"I must note once again that freedom of thought and expression; freedom of association and freedom of the press are enshrined in our Constitution and we in the Opposition will con­tin­ue to rigorously defend citizens’ rights."

"We maintain that this law should be repealed and completely removed off the statute books," she reiterated.


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