Recently, in T&T, the term "sedition" was used in the public domain. It subsequently became the subject of much public discussion.
Here, we will explain the sedition laws as well as clear up any confusion with sedition and treason. We make reference to the Sedition Act (No. 10 of 1920 and its amendments in 1961, 1969, 1971 and 1976) and the Treason Act (No. 16 of 1842 and its amendments in 1979).
Seditious acts can come through several forms including publications, e.g., newspapers and periodical publications as well as through statements. Statements are words spoken, written or recorded as well as signs or other visible representations.
It is very important that seditious intent be proven to get a conviction. What does this include?
First, seditious intent brings hatred or contempt, or excites disaffection against the government, the constitution, parliament or the justice system.
Second, seditious intent is an intention to excite someone to attempt to use unlawful means to alter situations that were presented to them.
Third, it can have the intent to raise discontent or disaffection among persons living in T&T.
Fourth, seditious intent can engender or promote the following two emotions:
(a) feelings of ill-will or hostility between one or more sections of the community
(b) feelings of ill-will towards, hostility to or contempt for any class of persons in T&T that are distinguished by race, colour, religion, profession, calling or employment
Fifth, seditious intent can promote with intent the destruction of identifiable groups through the commission of any of the following:
(a) killing members of the group
(b) deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life to bring about its physical destruction
Now, we see the wide range of seditious intent from raising up emotions to killing persons!
However, the following legal provision is critical to note. An act, speech, statement or publication cannot be deemed seditious by reason if it intends to:
(a) show that the government has misled or mistaken in its measures, or
(b) point out errors or defects in the government or constitution
Further, if the sharing of material through publications or statements is done with the intent to reform or fix the problem or even to excite persons to take lawful means to change these situations that were causing feelings of ill-will, hostility or contempt between sections of the community or classes in T&T, then it cannot be classified as seditious.
In addition, the law also provides for persons who may have seditious material and did not know that it was seditious; they cannot be convicted of sedition as well.
The law stipulates that if a person commits or attempts to commit a seditious act in the various forms identified earlier, if such a person received a summary conviction (usually by a magistrate), he gets a fine of $3,000 and 2 years imprisonment. If he receives a conviction on indictment (usually by a judge and jury in the high court), he gets a fine of $ 20,000 and 5 years imprisonment.
Did you know that if the President of T&T is of the opinion that any publication or statement is seditious he may issue an Order to prohibit it from coming into the country?
If anyone imports, prints, publishes, copies, reproduces, communicates materials that are listed as seditious, upon summary conviction, he receives a fine of $10,000 or 3 years imprisonment. If he is convicted in the high court as an indictable offence, the punishment is 5 years imprisonment.
There are some safety provisions in this law. For example,
(a) No person shall be prosecuted without the written consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
(b) No person shall be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness.
(c) A person can also be prosecuted under the Common Law or any other Act, but he shall not be punished twice for the same offence.
We have heard persons likening sedition to treason. There is a major difference. Treason is where any person owing allegiance to the state who whether in Trinidad or elsewhere (a) forms an intention to levy war against the state or to overthrow the government or the constitution by force and uses overt acts and (b) adheres to the enemies of the state by giving them aid or comfort. The punishment for treason in T&T is the death penalty. Note the vast differences in penalties for treason and sedition.
Where can someone find a list of publications classified as seditious? These are listed in the legislation. In fact, there is a Prohibited Publication Order where these are itemised. In the past, some of the prohibited "seditious" publications in the Caribbean include the Caribbean News Quarterly, West Indian Clarion, Caribbean Clarion, West Indian News, Caribbean Challenge, Caribbean Gazette, Caribbean Advocate, Caribbean Review and Guyana Information Bulletin. Some of the international publications that were prohibited and deemed seditious were The Marxist Quarterly, World Marxist Review and The Carib.
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