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By Lincoln Lewis
We are living in a dangerous time when some are seeking to deny the most basic of rights, that is the right to free speech, even within the confines of the law. The recent incident of the judgment handed down by the High Court into the Elections Petition is one such. It also proves a growing intolerance for some sections of the society to express a view, if that view is not considered the dominant or acceptable view.
Dissenting with the court’s ruling is not only a matter for the Appeal Court or Guyana’s court of last resort, the Caribbean Court of Justice. People are free to express their dissent even without having to appear in either or both of the judicial forum/fora. In order words the court’s ruling is also a matter of public opinion. There is no law in this country that prevents such expression and if we are to develop a society of tolerance, respecting the rights of each other, and holding leaders and institutions to account, this most fundamental of rights must not be trampled upon but nurtured.
Dissenting with a court’s ruling is not being disrespectful to the court or the presiding judge or magistrate, it is democracy at work. Should the society start accepting dissent as being wrong then this nation is in deeper trouble than we want to accept because inevitably no court will rule in the favour of both sides. If people cannot speak out, then what we are having here in society is a Jagdeo/Ali dictatorship that will not get better. It will only get worse. When we seek to muzzle legitimate expression, it could create serious problems in society because if people cannot speak out then we are forcing them to act out.
Some who today are taking objection to those who disagree with the High Court ruling in the Election Petition, when a similar Court ruled against them/or those who they support, they were vocal in condemnation of the ruling and also engaged in verbal attacks on the Judge and her family. I refer to the recent case of Annette Ferguson vs Bharrat Jagdeo. Whereas I disagree with the personal attacks on said Judge because they constitute attacks on the messenger not the verdict, which in our culture speaks to the inability to address the issue so this is masked by going after the person, reaction and disagreement to the judgement is accepted as a basic right.
There is no consistency in this society on critical issues that could weld us together as one and create a nation of tolerance and respect for each other. This is not a healthy state of affair because right and wrong are not dependent on who says what, to whom, when, where and how, but are based on established universally acceptable principles. The right to dissent with a ruling falls within universally acceptable principles, be it in the public domain or via judicial presentation, and even after.
We must stop taking it for granted that only some in this society can speak to issues and should others dare speak it is conceived and promoted as wrong. Rights and freedoms are not guaranteed in the Guyana Constitution to some but to all. Persons, across the political spectrum, are entitled to express their opinions about the ruling on the Election Petition and this must be respected. This morphing dictatorship must be called out for what it is.