THE Prime Minister said the Sedition Act must be retained to keep peace among groups in TT and did not think its curb on free speech needed to be repealed at yesterday’s post-Cabinet briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
The act bans incitement of hate towards any group in society but also bans utterances that can “raise discontent or disaffection.”
Seemingly referring to the recent charging of THA minority leader Watson Duke, he flatly denied the case was linked to the upcoming local and general elections.
He scoffed, “What folly!”.
Saying his Government feared nothing the Opposition had to say, he said, if someone got into trouble under the act, that was a matter solely for that person, the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Rowley said TT has full media freedom, as he asked how many journalists had been charged for sedition. Saying 800,000 people died in the Rwandan genocide and many countries have anti-hate laws, he said TT is diverse.
He said if the clauses on raising discontent were repealed they must be replaced with laws to curb individuals who want to destroy TT’s social fabric.
He added that statements made by certain public commentators implying that the Government might be using the police and DPP to silence or intimidate its political opponents were completely untrue.
Newsday asked if his remark that laws are amended all the time meant he was open to calls to review the act.
He replied, “I’m always open because I’m the Prime Minister. If there is a case to be made, let’s make it in a civil way. You don’t have to lie about it.”
Asked if he’d debate sedition in Parliament, he replied, “The Government is prepared to defend itself from accusations which are not true.”
He said the Law Reform Commission could review the act, given the ongoing public debate, or if the Government thought it needed urgent action, the Attorney General’s Office could look at it.
“There’s a pathway by which law goes to Parliament.”
Rowley said, “We are busy defending ourselves from the misrepresentation that the Government is using the Sedition Act politically in TT.
“As I stand here now I know of nothing in the pipeline directed at the Sedition Act. All I’m saying is we could approach this in a civil way without all this pseudo-intellectual misrepresentation and without the mischief, lies and accusations.”
Newsday asked what he meant by a civil debate.
Rowley said, “Not fabricating lies on the Government’s actions. The Government is not involved in persecuting or prosecuting anybody under the Sedition Act or any other act.”
Newsday asked if he was non-committal towards such debate.
“As we talk about amending or repealing it we should not lose sight of the fact that there is a basis upon which this law is there.”
Newsday said the act had serious implications for media freedom and free speech. He retorted that such fear was contrived, saying a certain newspaper was operating probably unlawfully but without hindrance.
“This is a free country. We have freedom of speech.
“I ask you: This ‘dangerous’ law to be abused by politicians, how many press persons have been subject to it?”
Newsday asked why bad laws were on the books even if unenforced?
The PM replied, “There are points of views. Some people believe the law on capital punishment is bad law. So the fact you are saying it is bad law does not mean it should be taken off the books.”
Media Association (MATT) president Dr Sheila Rampersad yesterday told TV6 she supported NATUC's court action to get a ruling on whether the act breaches free speech under the TT Constitution.
This story has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
THE Prime Minister said the Sedition Act must be retained to keep peace among groups in TT, and did not think its restrictions on free speech needed to be repealed. Dr Keith Rowley shared his views at today’s post-Cabinet briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
The Act bans incitement of hate towards any group in society but also bans utterances that can create discontent, even as the Opposition has vowed to try to repeal it in Parliament.
In his speech, he seemingly referred to THA minority leader Watson Duke being charged under the act (without naming him), but flatly denied the act had any relevance to the upcoming local and general elections. “What folly!” he scoffed.
Saying his Government had absolutely no fear of anything the Opposition had to say, he said if someone got into trouble under the act that was a matter for that person, the police and DPP.
Rowley said TT had full media freedom, as he asked how many journalists had been charged for sedition.
Citing the deaths of 800,000 in the Rwandan genocide and saying many countries have anti-hate laws, he said TT uniquely has much diversity.
Asked if the free-speech clauses should be repealed, he said critics wanted the whole act replaced, but if that happened it must be replaced with something to curb the conduct of those who would destroy TT’s social fabric.
Rowley was non-committal as to whether the Sedition Act would ever be debated for revision. He said laws were amended all the time, then said he knew of nothing in the pipeline for reviewing the act and then said any such discussion must occur in a civil way. Rowley said fears over the act had been contrived when, in fact, TT has freedom of speech and freedom of media.
Asked if it was okay to have bad laws remain on the statute books even if not enforced, he said it is subjective as to what is a bad law, such as people have differing views on the death penalty law.