Derwayne

WITHOUT A WHISPER: How Guyanese forfeited their right to protest

As we observe 176 years since the beginning of resistance against slavery and other injustices, it is proper that we reflect on the struggle for this result through our ancestor’s passive and active resistance.

Are such levels of active resistance still relevant to the contemporary world? We should ask the students of Venezuela against Maduro’s dictator-style democracy; Ukrainians against Yanukovych’s attempts to deprive values of human rights and democracy in exchange for the iron-fist policies of Russia; and the 2012 London riots which achieved God in heaven knows what.

To sum it up, civil disobedience has been a privilege much enjoyed by the masses because it signals the will of a people to act after they have lost faith in their elected Leaders.

On to the matter of this blog entry:

How many of us have heard of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap 08:01 or the Criminal Law (Offences) (Amendment) Act 2002 ?

And of course how many of us are aware that these two provisions gravely spell out the limitations of the Guyanese people to exercise their freedom of assembly?

Of course the most pedalled justification for the denial of any fundamental right is that with every right comes an equal amount of responsibilities. But can our responsibility limit our ability to practice our right? I will not be so wrong as to assume that it does. I am neither the Judge, Jury nor Executioner. But I offer one of my favourite quotes to sum up my view:

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

– James Madison,

President of the United States of America and Drafter of the US Constitution

 

SPAIN 2013

In what could only be described as a kick in the teeth for democracy, the Spanish Government in 2013 opted to set in place anti-protest laws, which sanctioned any unlawful or unauthorised assembly with fines for the activists who partake.

According to the Guardian article dated November 21, 2013, “Demonstrating near parliament without permission could result in a fine of up to €600,000, while insulting a police officer during a demonstration could cost up to €30,000.”

THE GUYANA CONTEXT

Coming out of the anti-terrorism sentiments of 2001, after Al Qaeda made its mark when two passenger carrying aircrafts levelled the World Trade Centre, Guyana, like most of the world, fell under the watchful and unrelenting influence of ‘Big Brother’ and his puppet: the OAS.

Hence the nation was forced to set in place and implement measures for dealing with potential ‘terrorist’ threats.

Enter the Criminal Law (Offences) (Amendment) Act 2002.

As a point of analysis, where the initial act provided in Part IV “OFFENCES AGAINST PUBLIC ORDER AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE” … to which Title 19 readsRiot and similar offences, the provision spells out in Section 307 that everyone who takes part in a “rout” or “unlawful assembly” will “be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for one year.”

What is unclear to me is how an “unlawful assembly” is defined. I may be speculating here but I believe that all protest actions must be given “approval” by the Police of whatever district. So to my understanding, an “unlawful assembly” is spontaneous, and without the approval of the Police. Then again, I could be wrong.

FUN FACT: Further in Section 309 (1), the unlawful assembly is only established “to the number of twelve or more”… so it appears to me that 11 persons picketing at the Square of the Revolution without permission cannot constitute an unlawful assembly. Interesting, Eh.

Finally, the law provides for the Mayor of that district or a Justice of the Peace (JP) who is present during the “unlawful assembly” to proclaim “openly and with a loud voice”:

 “His Excellency the President charges and commands all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon the pain of being guilty of an offence, on conviction for which they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life BY COMMAND OF THE PRESIDENT”.

I don’t know about y’all but that sounds like a “kick in the teeth of democracy” to me, especially when it further states that those gathered have fifteen minutes to disperse after the proclamation has been made or else they “shall be guilty of felony, and liable to imprisonment for life… provided that no person shall be prosecuted for any offence under this section unless the prosecution is commenced within twelve months after the offence was committed.”

COMPARE/CONTRAST

How did the Spaniards respond to anti-protest laws and sanctions? They protested. In an attempt to defend their fleeting rights under an impinging Government, they protested to solidify their democratic freedoms in a proclamation that citizen participation in political life is not limited to lining up at the ballots for ‘finger-inking’ day

Guyanese? *Crickets chirping*

It would be erroneous of me to assume that there wasn’t any deeper sentiment by the Parliament in 2002 to pass such a bill into law as the Criminal Law (Offences) (Amendment) Act.

Firstly, to examine the composition of things during that time. And I think that my point is perfectly summed up in this article relating to the Spain scenario:

“The bill must be approved by parliament, but its passage is virtually guaranteed as the ruling party has an absolute majority in both chambers.”

The reason I say this is because the basic instinct of any Government (which just so happened to enjoy the Parliamentary majority in Guyana at that time) is to preserve their power and minimise any threats to the enjoyment of that power. In 2002, Parliament was controlled by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration and coming out of the 1996 and 2001 General Elections, such legislation would tackle a particular destructive culture that was embodied in the 1994. 2001 “Mo fyah Slow fyah” campaigns of the Opposition specifically the PNC/R. With a two birds-one stone approach the legislation, if and when approved, would tackle:

1. Terrorism threats (as set in place by the amendments) and,

2. a raucous Opposition that used fire, riots and destruction as a lesson to the Government (which seems to be the issue being addressed in the principal act);

The PPP/C Administration must have been all too joyful to put such measures in place.

But to whose detriment? At the cost of whose rights have Politicians sought to protect themselves?

Consider this: If a crime is only a crime when someone else is aggrieved or deprived of their enjoyment of life… then is an abridgement or denial of a fundamental right only unjust when those who would be affected respond negatively and effectively?

Have the Guyanese people responded as yet, do we deem it to be an abridgement, or has our lack of understand of how Parliament directly affects us, aside from taxes, become so grave that we have become complacent? It could very well be.

Then again, I could be wrong.


 

DISCLAIMER: The post was written without the intention of causing chaos or inciting civil disobedience. If any acts of protest or assembly are sparked as a result of this article, such acts shall not be linked to the writer of this post. 

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