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It is not a good sign in society where people begin to develop fear and engage in excessive self-censorship because they sense the possibility of danger befalling themselves and or family members. A democratic society is one where freedom of expression is a fundamental right enjoyed by all. Such freedom must not merely be articulated as window dressing but enshrined in the Constitution and upheld throughout the country.
Guyana is still a country where people are free to speak. However, whilst this is enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana there is a rising sense that if one wants to enjoy comfort and maximise their potential and economic development that this can become seriously jeopardized, either directly or indirectly, through governmental pressure and acts of harassment, marginalisation and deprivation. Such jeopardy may also befall one’s loved ones and family members. Signs of an autocratic society are on the rise. Those who are fooled into believing they are better off won’t be because it is only a matter of time before everybody becomes subjugated and down pressed.
All Guyanese ought to be seriously concerned. Democracy runs deeper than just one man one vote; it is the protection of rights and freedoms. The right to freedom of association. The right to self -determination. The right to free speech. The right to enjoy safety and security, to be protected by the state. The right to necessities such as food and water. In a society such as what we are seeing being developed these rights are under threat particularly the right to freedom of expression, association and to descent.
Also, under threat is the right to political expression. The government of the day sets out to victimise those people who don’t vote for them with threats and fears. The right to earn a living in a government service is under threat. The enablers in society such as individuals and sections of the media play a role to protect and to support alternative facts in society. To have a different view from that of the government is to run the risk of being denied expression, through the media itself seeking to accuse, attack or label the dissenters in a way for them to suffer social repercussions.
Whilst some mainstream media have taken a political side against the Opposition and dissenters, forcing them to establish alternative media and utilise social media more, persons are beginning to find that efforts are being made to curtail free expression through fear tactics and other means. The Cybersecurity Act and warnings by the state that law enforcement will go after those who engage in hate speech on social media have been selective, not universal in application.
The right to free speech is being slowly eroded. Dissenters are finding that the law and warnings are being used like Damocles Sword over their heads in order to drive fear or stifle free speech. This is a very dangerous signal when fear permeates the society and freedom of speech is under threat. It is a sign that we are living in hostile times.