Maharaj calls for review of Sedition Act

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 12:15

Using the Sedition laws to curtail free speech is a violation of the tenants of democracy.

So said former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj days after Minority Leader of the Tobago House of Assembly Watson Duke was charged for sedition.

Speaking on the Morning Brew yesterday, Maharaj said sedition laws are a contravention to freedom of expression.

"It interferes with the right to freedom of speech but the right to express political views, and the freedom of the press," Maharaj said.

He called on the government to make a clear statement on whether it intended to retain, amend or repeal the archaic laws in the interest of democracy.

Maharaj said even though Sedition laws remain on the Statute books, it was never enforced until recently.

"In T&T  there are many laws that are on the book but have not been repealed. This sedition act has been resurrected to be used and the public perception is that it was resurrected to be used to silence critics," Maharaj said.

He explained that the laws were established by the British government and were used to imprison Mahatma Gandhi in India.

"The same law we have in Trinidad was the same law which was used to imprison Gandhi.  When he spoke he did not incite violence, he was critical of British rule. In the 1990's it was recognized by Britain that this law was a bad law and Britain repealed the law and said it was taking steps to ensure that all other countries repeal it," Maharaj said.

He added that several Commonwealth countries have also repealed the laws.

"Those who repealed it recognizes that it attacks freedom of speech, expression and political views.  Someone could make a speech and cause disaffection but not incite violence yet you can jail the person for sedition," Maharaj said.

He said he has done research by going through the laws and cases in the United States and Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and Nigeria.

Maharaj said in abolishing the crime of sedition, the UK and New Zealand said sedition offended the fundamental principles of freedom of expression and democracy.

He called on the government to instruct the Law Revision Commission to examine the Sedition Act and submit a report to determine whether the law should be amended, repealed or retained.

On Thursday Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he was open to reviewing the Sedition Act.

Saying the Act was meant to retain peace among groups in TT, Rowley denied that the law contravened freedom of speech. He noted that free media exists in T&T.

Rowley said the Law Commission could review the act, given the ongoing public debate, or if Government thought it needed urgent action, the Attorney General’s Office could look at it.

- by Radhica De Silva