Freedom of speech is of central significance, embodying the concept of liberty, as a necessary component of democracy to speak out when any right is threatened.
The ensuing public outrage over the Sedition Act following a charge against a union leader therefore represents a serious debate over free speech and the opportunity to review the act’s constitutionality.
That said, freedom of speech is not under attack simply because an individual is charged with sedition.
The Sedition Act (until removed from the statute book) must be fairly and honestly used against those who breach it. The gist of the offence of sedition is “incitement to violence” or the “tendency or the intention to create public disorder.”
So the principles guiding the sedition law, as applied, should be invoked to curb such acts. Does that amount to trying to muzzle free speech in the legal system? Everyone must play by the rules. Free speech cannot be a cover for inciting lawless action.
Many believe this offence is redundant, has the potential for misuse and that it is not necessary to have any offence of sedition. But rhetorical “grand charging” to evoke emotion would become dangerous if lives are put at stake or if the stability of the nation state is materially threatened. This means that a state cannot ignore all such statements.
It is not free speech anymore where such statements turn the makers into instigators of incitement. The “grand charging” culture in TT must not make a mockery of constitutional freedoms and reduce it to mere sham. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from its consequences.
Speech is freer than ever, it seems, with an abundance of platforms offering everybody a chance to say whatever about everybody else. People seem to have forgotten that words can have a tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order. The law will remind them that the right of free speech is not absolute. This is not to be seen as a colonial hangover of using a colonial-era law to censor speech or genuine criticism of a government.
This case against the union leader will be seen as an important test on the limits of free speech.
international criminal lawyer
DANIEL I KHAN
former inspector of prisons