Amend the sedition law, don’t repeal it.
This is the humble suggestion of Michael Seales, who, amid national conversation of the necessity for the Sedition Act, was one of the few people who went through the gauntlet of being charged, tried and acquitted of sedition charges.
Seales, former president of the Police Social and Welfare Association, was charged for statements he made in a televised interview in 2015. During the interview in June 2015, Seales who was then secretary of the association, suggested the People’s Partnership government was trying to frustrate the police to the point where there would be a need for a state of emergency, thereby delaying upcoming elections. The statement was made during negotiations between the police and government over salaries. Seales, in a conversation with Newsday, said the sedition law was a necessity, as it ensured that people conducted themselves in a certain manner, and laid the groundwork for people to take accountability for what they say in public and its effects.
But he felt there was a grey area in determining what exactly could be defined as a statement with seditious intent. Seales said at the end of the day people must take responsibility for their conduct.
He compared the Sedition Act to stances taken against hate speech and said they mirrored each other in their ultimate intent.
“So if people talk about hate speech, what is the difference between that and sedition?” Seales said since his own sedition troubles, he has learned to manage his statements in a way that would uplift the population of the country, rather than create discord.
“One of the things that I have realised is, the way you coin your speech must contribute to the uplifting of society, whether the speech is aggressive or not. That is part of the learning curve that I have been through.”
Seales said when the charge was finally laid against him, it hit him like a ton of bricks.
“It impacted my family, financially, and just the prospect of how to move forward while having this underlying fear, based on the position I was holding, was very hard.”
He said a wave of relief washed over him when Deputy Chief Magistrate Maria Earle Busby-Caddle decided he did not explicitly call on members of the association to dissent against the government during the interview.