Two men who have faced sedition cases in the past have had somewhat differing views concerning Justice Frank Seepersad’s judgement on Monday.
On Monday, Justice Seepersad upheld the late former secretary-general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj’s constitutional challenge of the sedition act and ruled that clauses in the sedition act were unconstitutional.
Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, who had been charged under the act in 2005, but saw his case was listed for retrial after a jury could not decide upon a verdict on the matter in 2012, was pleased with the ruling.
“Excerpts from Justice Seepersad’s judgment were a breath of fresh air. When principles of justice are applied by the courts I am always vindicated. In this instance, it was indirect but still appreciated,” said Abu Bakr in response to Guardian Media yesterday.
“In my sedition matter I quoted the Quran and its teachings. I have a responsibility to warn my congregation against the Greed that is destroying our Nation and I was charged for doing just that. In the spirit of my message then which saw me dragged before the Courts,” he said in reference to his case.
The Jamaat Al Muslimeen leader, however, did not agree with the Attorney General Faris Al Rawi’s stance in response to the ruling, as in his view the law was outdated.
“In no way do I advocate for irresponsible, divisive, hateful, speech. I can distinguish myself from others in that light. However, still, freedom of speech is essential in any society. I am surprised that the AG is still attempting to defend this archaic unjust law,” he said
Inspector Michael Seales, who was charged under the act in 2016 in relation to statement he made on a live TV broadcast in 2015, said he is not surprised by the ruling given by Justice Frank Seepersad on Monday.
“I was not surprised, I think that when you look at what he analysed in terms of what the law speaks about, which is very important for me. That grey area that we do not have a threshold for, what can be determined to be a seditious statement so that wasn’t too surprising to me,” said Seales
The case against the former Police Social Welfare Association (PSWA) President was dropped a year later.
Despite that experience, Seales said he shared some of the concerns raised by the Attorney General concerning the ruling that it would restrict the ability to curb hateful or inciteful speech.
“Yes, I do share his view, but what we have to understand is that whilst we only have the law of sedition in the land. The question of hate speech and these other issues that follows from other jurisdictions will become important for us,” said Seales, “We must have some responsibility in terms of what you say because, in fact, even something as simple as a threat in terms of an assault is in fact law. But what you have done now when you disaggregate this way, what you do is cause a potential problem in the future for all other laws that surround the question of speech.”
However, Seales agreed with Seepersad that a specification concerning what constitutes hateful or inciteful speech should be made.
“If you don’t speak about threshold you must declare what type of speech would amount to a criminal act and I do agree with that,” said Inspector Seales.
Public Service Association President Watson Duke, who was charged under the act last year, said he was consulting his lawyers concerning the ruling yesterday and would speak more on the issue in a press conference today.