Former President Bharrat Jagdeo has been summoned to appear in an East Berbice court to answer a private criminal charge that he uttered racially divisive remarks in violation of one of Guyana’s electoral laws.
If found guilty by Magistrate Charlyn Artiga at the Whim Magistrates’ Court, he could be fined GUY$100,000 and jailed for two years. The Representation of the People Act also says that a guilty person would be barred from being a member of the National Assembly, local democratic organ or the holder of any constitutional or statutory office.
Jagdeo has to appear in court on April 20.
Current and former Presidents are largely immune from prosecution.
The Former President’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Bernard Dos Santos hopes that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will take the necessary action to deal with the private criminal charge.
Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram filed the private criminal charge, citing Jagdeo’s remarks at Babu John, Port Mourant in March at the commemorative event for late Presidents Cheddi and Janet Jagan. He quoted Jagdeo as saying then that “The opposition consistently shout about the racism of the PPP but they practise racism. The opposition beat drums at six in the morning and say let us throw out those coolie people.”
Noting that Ram is a known critic, Dos Santos believed that the charge amounted to an unnatural obsession with his client. “I have examined the statements allegedly made by Mr. Jagdeo and which form the basis of the charge; I have examined the section of the law under which the charge has been laid and in my view the charge is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the process of the court in which it has been filed. Indeed, it is a gross misinterpretation and colossal misuse and abuse of section 139D of the Representation of the Peoples Act, Cap1:02,” said Dos Santos, a former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs in a People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration.
Dos Santos feared that the use of the law could be used to trample on politicians’ constitutional right to freedom of expression. “I will say however, that it constitutes an abridgement of the constitutional right and freedom of my client to speak and express himself freely. Indeed, this unprecedented use of a criminal charge to muzzle speakers at public political events is an assault on the democratic right of political leaders to speak freely on matters of national interest as well as a violation of the democratic right of the citizenry to receive such information. I can only imagine the devastating consequences which can flow if the criminal justice system will be used in such a manner and across the political divide. This is nothing more than political sensationalisation and mischief,” he said.
The Guyana Elections Commission’s Media Monitoring Unit has concluded that Jagdeo’s remarks “were racially divisive.”