THIS country's sedition laws are back in effect. At least for now.
Today the Appeal Court suspended the order of Justice Frank Seepersad who found last month that parts of the law were unconstitutional, as it infringed on the rights of citizens to freedom of expression, thought and freedom of the press.
That appeal was filed by the Office of the Attorney general after Justice Seepersad refused to grant an application by the State for its suspension immediately following his ruling on January 13.
Today, Appeal Court judge Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon suspended Justice Seepersad's order.
It means that the laws under which Public Services Association (PSA), President Watson Duke and Jamaat al Musliemen leader Yasin Abu Bakr were arrested and prosecuted, are again enforceable.
However, the suspension of the order only comes pending the hearing and determination of the substantive appeal. This means the actual findings of Justice Seepersad are yet to be tried and ruled upon.
Justice Seepersad had ruled that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act, which came into effect in 1920, were not in conformity with the Constitution as they imposed disproportionate and unjustified restrictions on citizens’ free speech, expression and thought.
The judge also held that the act infringed on the right to freedom of the press.
Following the ruling, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the ruling of the judge was “dangerous” and indicated it would be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London, England.
A week after Seepersad’s ruling, the State filed 29 grounds of appeal.
An additional five grounds are being relied upon as they relate to a substitution order in which the judge allowed Vijay Maharaj, the son of former Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Sat Maharaj, to replace his father as a claimant in the proceedings that ended in Seepersad’s judgement striking down the sedition laws.
In his January ruling, Justice Seepersad found sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act patently inconsistent and at odds with Section 1 of the Constitution, which guarantees that Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign, democratic State.
“In addition, they violate the Rule of Law because they lack certainty, are vague and so their status as law cannot be reasonably justified in this sovereign, democratic state,” the judge said.
The effect of the ruling meant that people could no longer be charged with the act of sedition.
The ruling brought a halt to a preliminary enquiry against Watson Duke, who was charged with se¬dition last August over statements he made during a protest at telecoms provider TSTT in 2018.
Duke was successful in having a charge of sedition against him discontinued by Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle Caddle in the Port of Spain Court.
Abu Bakr, also made an application before Justice Maria Wilson in the Port of Spain High Court for a charge of sedition against him to be discharged.
That charge came following statement during a sermon in which Bakr 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.
The constitutional claim was filed by Maharaj and his media company, Central Broadcasting Services Ltd, af¬ter Maharaj made certain statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.
Maharaj said citizens living in Tobago were lazy and the men were rapists.
Even though he had not been charged, Maharaj later suggested to his supporters during an SDMS Indian Arri¬val Day celebration that a charge for sedition against him was inevitable.