The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been given until 4 pm today to decide if it will agree to not institute sedition charges against Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Satnarayan Maharaj pending the determination of his novel constitutional challenge against this country's colonial-age sedition legislation.
Lawyers representing Maharaj and SDMS media house Central Broadcasting Services first made the request to DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, on Monday but decided to send a follow-up letter as he had not responded up to this morning.
In the letters, their lawyer Kavita Roop-Boodoo referred to Sections 4, 5 and 14 of the Constitution, which she said gives the High Court the power to make orders to protect the rights of citizens pending the determination of their lawsuits over their fundamental rights.
Roop-Boodoo said if the DPP fails to respond by the deadline, her clients will seek an injunction on the issue.
The letter came hours after police executed a second search warrant at the company's compound on Thursday afternoon.
The first was executed after Maharaj made a series of incendiary statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15. Maharaj claimed citizens living in Tobago are lazy and labelled the men as rapists.
The Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) issued a warning to Maharaj and the company over the comments which are now being challenged by them in a separate lawsuit. Maharaj and the company have also initiated legal proceedings against the T&T Police Service (TTPS) for failing to disclose the warrant used for the search. The TTPS has maintained that the warrant was lawfully obtained and executed but has refused to disclose it to them unless it is ordered to do.
While no criminal charges have been brought against Maharaj, he suggested that such is inevitable while addressing supporters at SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebrations last month.
In a constitutional motion lawsuit, Maharaj's lawyers are claiming the legislation, which was passed in 1920 and amended several times between 1961 and 1976, breaches citizens' constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association and assembly.
They argued that Section 3 and 6 of the legislation, which defines a seditious intention and the publication of such, is unpredictable and allows for discrimination.
In order to succeed in the claim, Maharaj's lawyers must also get past the legislation's saving clause, which precludes it from judicial interpretation except in scenarios when it can be found incompatible with the provisions of the Constitution and cannot be justified in the public's interest.
They contend that the savings clause was only meant for a limited period of time and should be declared undemocratic and unconstitutional.
The lawsuit is scheduled to come up for hearing before Justice Frank Seepersad on July 8.
- by Derek Achong