While the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) believes the Government should repeal the Sedition Act, former mutineer Raffique Shah believes it is still necessary to maintain social order.
However, Shah, the former political leader of the United Labour Front, says legislators should review the act to ensure it does not restrict free speech.
National Security Minister Stuart Young on Thursday said the act remains on the lawbooks and he was happy to have a police service that enforces the law. However, Young said a review of the act was not on Government’s agenda.
“The Sedition Act, as I understand, is archaic, meaning coming from as far back, I heard somebody say as far back as 1920. Clearly, it must be severely outdated and maybe even irrelevant to society today, 100 years later,” Shah told Guardian Media Thursday.
“I do believe, however, that provisions must be made in the law. Maybe there are such laws for people who are inciting racial, religious and other types of strifes and unrests between and among groups in society that could be detrimental to the development of unity in a country that is so fractured.”
He added, “Yes I think there is a place for laws governing some of the offences that form part of the original sedition law, but clearly, we don’t need archaic legislation that will infringe on the freedom of speech that we have fought so hard for.”
In 1920, the former British colonial government implemented the act as a mean of controlling dissenting voices.
Shah agreed that the Sedition Act was a political tool created by the British, which they used to charge former trade union icon Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler in 1937. Butler was tried and freed but spent two years in prison for inciting a riot.
Shah himself fought government control in 1970 when, together with Lt Rex, led a mutiny to prevent the Dr Eric Williams People’s National Movement government from using military force against the masses during the 1970 Black Power Movement’s riots. He and other mutineers were jailed but were eventually freed.
Jamaat al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu-Bakr was charged with sedition in 2005 for comments he made during a sermon. However, that matter was eventually dismissed.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha General Secretary Sat Maharaj is also under investigation by police for sedition. He is now challenging the constitutionality of the law in the High Court.
Shah yesterday said this challenge may bring clarification on the law and may suggest what should be done with it.
“I don’t see any harm in challenging the law. Maybe something will come out of the challenge, causing an update of the law to make it more relevant,” he said.
“There must be a concern. In other words, we cannot just wildly and irresponsibly make statements that will cause strife. I am all for upgrading and updating the law to make it more relevant to today’s world but at the same times with responsibility.”