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posted 7 Sept 2019, 08:25 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 7 Sept 2019, 08:32 ]
On September 4th 2019, Michael Annisette, General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre, wrote the following letter to the Attorney General.

We, The National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC), call upon you and The Government of Trinidad and Tobago to revisit the Sedition Act Chapter 11:04 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. The recent arrest and charging of our comrade Mr. Watson Duke, President of NATUC, has brought forcefully home to the trade union movement as a whole and more specifically the members of NATUC, that the Sedition Act as drafted has the potential to expose all union leaders to unwanted and unwarranted criminal prosecution.

The words allegedly uttered by Comrade Duke are not dissimilar to the normal rhetoric and hyperbole employed by members of the trade union movement. Nor are the words a departure from the normal discourse employed in calypsos which focus on political commentary and satire.

We, the members of the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago have read the Sedition Act and studied carefully its historical background. From our understanding, the criminal offence of sedition and seditious libel emanated out of feudal English Law as early as 1275 with the Statute of Westminster. This was an epoch when the monarchy of England was considered divine and those at the top of the feudal structure could not be questioned.

The British sedition laws were extensively employed in the 18th and 19th century both in England and her colonial possessions. By the year 1977 the Law Commission in the United Kingdom expressed the view that the common law offence of sedition was "ill-defined" and "unnecessary". Lord Denning in his 1984 book Landmarks in the Law wrote that the definition of sedition was "found to be too wide. It would restrict too much the full and free discussion of public affairs.... so it has fallen into disuse for nearly 150 years".

We respectfully submit that the Sedition Act is premised on societal norms and values which are almost half of a millennium old. The legislation is archaic and has no place in the democratic pluralistic society that is Trinidad and Tobago. We look to our Constitution which is the Supreme Law of the land and which guarantees the right of free speech and freedom of expression. We in this country have a culture and a history of free speech which was earned by the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers such as Uriah "Buzz" Butler, Arthur Cipriani, Adrian Rienzi and CLR James.

We submit that it is a retrograde step in our country's democracy to penalize those who criticise the Government of the day. Criticism in and out of the Parliament is necessary to hold any Government accountable to those who elected them.

We commend to you the words of Baroness D'Souza in July 2009 when the abolition/ amendment to the United Kingdom's Sedition laws came up for debate:-

"The power to express forcefully political discontent is the cornerstone of democracy and lies with the people. Conversely, it is not therefore in the power of government to criminalize this expression. The fundamental of rights of UK individuals would be better protected by removing the offence of seditious libel from the statute book".

The primary role of any government is to protect its citizenry. The genesis of the Sedition Act is to stifle complaints and the dissemination of same amongst members of the public. Is this relevant in the information technology age?

The Sedition Act as currently drafted should be repealed or materially amended. One only has to look at the list of banned publications contained in the Schedule of the Act to be convinced that the entire Act is irrelevant and out of step with 21st century freedoms. Not only are publications from China and the Soviet Union banned but also Labour publications. The Sedition Act has been historically used in this country to stifle popular discontent in the colonial era as well as unrest post 1970. It is unarguable that "massah day done" and that there are civil remedies available to those in Government who feel themselves aggrieved by the words of others.