PPP Assault on Freedom of Speech during Flood Crisis Monday, January 24, 2005
On Saturday, 22nd January, 2005, at approximately 9.30 p.m. a most vulgar assault on the constitutional right to freedom of expression took place at the behest of the PPP/C Government.
At that time a van load of armed policemen, from the Impact Patrol, numbering approximately fourteen, together with Mr. Valmikki Singh, CEO (Ag) of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), descended on the premises of Channel 6 Television Station and seized part of the station’s transmission equipment so as to render the station inoperable.
The owner of that station, Mr. C.N. Sharma, has shown the PNCR a document signed by Justice of the Peace Hussain, addressed to Mr. Valmikki Singh authorizing and requiring him to enter Channel 6’s premises and to seize any apparatus appearing to be used for TV broadcasting by that station.
The document also stated that the Prime Minister had, with effect from 22nd January, 2005, suspended the television licence of Channel 6 until the 22nd of February 2005.
The powers of a Justice of Peace are set out in Chapter 3:05 of the Laws of Guyana and they include the power “to issue search warrants in respect of indictable offences, or in respect of any other offence in which a magistrate has power to issue a search warrant…..:.”
According to Mr. Sharma he has not been notified by any relevant authority of his having committed any offence by way of any violation of the laws or regulations governing the operation of his TV station.
In the circumstances, the illegal seizure and removal of equipment from Channel 6 amounts to theft which has, in this case, been committed by the State. Attempts to find out where the stolen equipment was being kept have met with a straightforward “I do not know” by police officers at the Brickdam police station and the Impact Patrol base located at that station.
The Government closure of Channel 6 is also a flagrant violation of Article 146 (1) of the Guyana Constitution which, inter alia, states as follows:
“Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence”.
While this right is not absolute the PNCR believes it will strain credibility to argue that any of the constraints applied to Channel 6 in respect of the current flooding situation.
Less than twenty four hours before the breach of his and his station’s constitutional rights, according to Mr. Sharma, he was threatened with closure by two senior Government functionaries if he did not desist from carrying the line he did with respect to reports on the flooding. True to his nature Mr. Sharma did not allow himself to be bullied and faced the illegality and unconstitutionality which followed.
The PNCR views this matter with grave concern for it signals the intensification of attempts by the Government to suppress freedom of speech while it mouths empty commitments to democracy and the democratic process.
It is part of a deliberate attempt to stifle and, if possible, quell freedom of expression, to keep people afraid to offer legitimate criticism of the Government, either in general, or on specific matters such as the current flooding situation.
Right now the Government continues to monopolize the use of Channel 11, to disseminate information and to express only its views on the flooding. Channel 11 is owned by all of the people of Guyana, yet no opportunity is presented to others to share their perspectives with the people.
Additionally, a lot of what is being portrayed by the Government gives a distorted picture of the reality and there is no possibility of time being given on Channel 11 for others to counter those distortions.
Further, there are at least two private TV stations which are surrogates for the Government to the point where it is difficult to distinguish them from Channel 11 in the way in which the flooding situation is being presented to the public.
Channel 6, on the other hand, provided a different perspective on the floods and presented the views of many citizens which contradicted the picture that was being painted by the Government and its surrogates.
While the Government may have been uneasy, and even angry, about this, it is the norm, and must be accepted as such, in any functioning democracy.
The PNCR will not be silent in the face of this onslaught against the freedom of expression. If this cowardly act undermining democracy and violating our Constitution is allowed to stand unchallenged, then the State will be emboldened to cast its net even wider to bring in what it perceives as recalcitrants who do not share its views.
Together we must never allow this to happen.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Monday, January 24, 2005
TO: Valmikki Singh, CEO (Ag), duly appointed officer by the Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works and Communications under Section 63 (4) of the Post and Telegraph Act Cap 47:01.
WHEREAS on the 22nd day of January, 2005, the Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Communications, acting pursuant to the Post and Telegraph Act Cap 47:01 and the Wireless Telegraphy Regulations made thereunder, has suspended the Television Station Licence number 332V/12/OT/2001, issued to Chandranarine Sharma/Savitree Singh to operate a Television Broadcasting Station, which suspension takes immediate effect and is in place until the 22nd day of February, 2005;
This is therefore to authorise and require you to enter the said premises and to seize any apparatus appearing to be used for TV broadcasting in the above-mentioned station.
Justice of the Peace Georgetown
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