Prima facie case made out against Abu Bakr

Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr (right)

JAMAAT-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr has filed an application in court to be discharged on a charge of sedition, following the recent judgment of Justice Frank Seepersad, who found that Trinidad and Tobago’s colonial-age sedition law was unconstitutional.

The application was made at the Port of Spain High Court yesterday, even as attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General sought to have the Appeal Court suspend Seepersad’s ruling.

Bakr was charged with the offence after he allegedly incited others to demand money by menace and to commit a breach of the peace during an Eid sermon at the Jamaat’s Mucurapo Road Mosque in 2005.

In 2012, his trial at the High Court ended in a hung jury, resulting in a retrial being ordered. The retrial has not taken place.

Just last week, Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle Caddle discharged Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke on a charge of sedition as a direct effect of Seepersad’s ruling.

If the judge’s ruling is eventually overturned by either the Appeal Court or the Privy Council, then the charge could be reinstated.

While Bakr’s application was being heard before Justice Maria Wilson, who adjourned her decision to next week, attorneys for the AG’s Office were seeking to have Justice of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon grant the suspension of Seepersad’s ruling.

That appeal was heard in-camera and was therefore closed to members of the public, including the media. However, the Express understands Yorke-Soo Hon adjourned the court’s ruling to a date that is yet to be set.

A date for the hearing of the substantive appeal is also yet to be set.

On January 13, Seepersad held that Sections 3 and 4 of the Act were unconstitutional, “vague, uncertain and could lead to arbitrary application”.

The judge said the legislation was not compatible with a sovereign democratic state as it limited constitutional rights to freedom of thought, expression and freedom of the press.

The constitutional claim was filed by then general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Sat Maharaj, and his media company, Central Broadcasting Services Ltd.

Maharaj has since died.

It was filed after police officers went to the SDMS compound in search of video recordings after Maharaj labelled citizens in Tobago as being lazy and the men as being rapists on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti last April.

Even though he was never charged with any offence, Maharaj, in addressing his supporters at an SDMS Indian Arrival Day function, said because of the statements, police were moving to have him charged with committing an act of sedition.