Sedition vs scapegoatism: Real Chris crime

Judy Kublalsingh-Matthews -
Judy Kublalsingh-Matthews -


THERE’S AN unspoken judicial philosophy for regulating free speech. Ideas, be they good, bad, benign or malicious are free to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The ultimate good is best achieved by free trade of ideas. The best test of truth is the power of the idea to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.

Thus far no sensible argument has emerged that suggests that the hammer that has most sorely landed on the head of a middle-aged Canadian vlogger, doing his vlogging thing, has been accepted in the local arena of ideas. The scepticism, confusion and general disdain of the average person may well be a fine example of ideas at war with itself.

The Sedition Act is a relic of colonial-era law from a bygone era when freedom of ideas and expression were not treated as the rights they are today. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 abolished the common law offences of sedition and seditious libel in England. And some goodly Englishmen there made freedom of thought and expression a protected right in the UK under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The last major case in England involved Salman Rushdie and his publisher who were accused of seditious libel. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was framed as a “scurrilous attack on the Muslim religion,” causing riots in the UK, and a severance of diplomatic ties between the UK and Iran. Ultimately, the application failed after the judges found there was no seditious intent against any of the UK’s democratic institutions.

Under our dinosaur-era Sedition Act, the communication, publication or distribution of any statement or information must have a “seditious intent.” This intent is broadly defined in common law as one that “encourages the violent overthrow of democratic institutions.”

In layman’s terms, and using an extremely broad licence, it means that you must not say or publish any bad words about the government, or the justice system, that incites violence, nor should you form flash mobs, particularly if armed with flaming torches and pitchforks, to seek to overthrow any of the aforementioned branches. A broader interpretation may be you must intend to mash up the place or incite others to do the same.

Truth be told, the Sedition Act in all its previous controversial incarnations has been up to no good. In the US, in the early 20th century, the only journalists prosecuted under the Sedition Act were editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers. One such person indicted for sedition was Democratic-Republican Congressman Matthew Lyon, a harsh critic of president Adams. Lyon successfully conducted his re-election campaign from jail in 1800.

The US Supreme Court accepted broad interpretations of both the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, and in a series of cases upheld convictions inconsistent with the First Amendment.

In Debs v United States, an outspoken socialist and presidential candidate was imprisoned for simply pledging support for three men who had been jailed for violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts. After his arrest, Debs wrote to a friend, “I am expecting nothing but conviction under a law flagrantly unconstitutional and which was framed especially for the suppression of free speech.”

In Abrams v United States, at issue was the conviction of two Russian immigrants who threw leaflets from an apartment window in 1918 denouncing US interference in the Bolshevik Revolution. Seven justices claimed that the action met the then “clear and present danger” test.

Any similarly narrow interpretation of the Sedition Act must surely be frowned upon and its interpretation and application critically analysed to ensure that it aligns with the spirit of the Constitution.

No law should ever be used to distract. Or to protect anyone from “looking bad” or “stupid” because some YouTuber foreigner shows up on our shores and shows citizens graphic images of uneducated, juvenile, bloodthirsty gangsters brandishing state-of-the-art weapons, right under police watch in our little crime-ridden state.

Similarly, foreign governments would be worse than delinquent should they fail to advise their citizens of dangerous crime "hot-spot" areas, no matter “how bad we look.”

Years ago, my article, published by local media, contained excerpts from a May 2014 Vice News exclusive. The following are quotes from that exclusive:

Reporter (on what is fuelling our decades-plus spike in killings): "This is mostly due to warring gang factions which fight ruthless turf wars...Many have become intertwined in politics, doing favours for politicians and receiving lucrative government contracts for public works and construction payouts..."

Reporter: "Whilst drugs only stop here temporarily, guns remain. Many think corrupt politicians and business leaders are heavily involved and the culture of corruption and impunity filters down to the street level where gangs do not fear the rule of law."

Masked gangster: “The big fish don't deal direct. The politicians and businessmen, them is the men behind the curtain. Them hiding. They never see the front line. The police now want extra money...the politicians does get it (drugs) much easier...about ten years now the whole thing change up. Everybody start to take bribes, coast guard, police, everybody on the dollar sign...when the action start everybody want piece of the, as long as you have is power."

Unnamed: "To understand the murder rate...all the complexities, you must understand the games politicians have played. The most powerful players who are involved need to purchase immunity from the state...they have to be political financiers...that is what drives the endemic corruption of the society...the traffickers who live in Trinidad, they wield power within the state structure..."

A scapegoat incidentally or co-incidentally is a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes or faults of others, particularly for reasons of expediency.

Judy Kublalsingh-Matthews is an attorney


"Sedition vs scapegoatism: Real Chris crime"

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