Sat alone in Sedition fight

Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 17:00

No one has come forward to join Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary-general Satnarayan Maharaj's novel constitutional challenge against this country's colonial-age sedition legislation. 

When the case came up for case management at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, Justice Frank Seepersad asked Maharaj's lawyers and those for the Attorney General's Office whether anyone had expressed interest in joining the case. 

Maharaj's lawyer Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, claimed that two trade unions had contacted him, but noted that neither filed an application to join the case as an interested party. 

The parties then agreed that the December 9 trial date would not be derailed and that their case would take precedence if third parties decided to file separate lawsuits.

In the lawsuit, Maharaj's lawyers are claiming that the legislation, which was passed in 1920 and amended several times, between 1961 and 1976, breached citizens' constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association and assembly. 

They stated that Section 3 and 6 of the legislation, which defines a seditious intention and the publication of such, is unpredictable and allows for discrimination.

In order to succeed in the claim, Maharaj's lawyers must also get past the legislation's saving clause, which precludes it from judicial interpretation except in scenarios when it can be found incompatible with the provisions of the constitution. 

They contend that the savings clause was only meant for a limited period of time and should be declared undemocratic and unconstitutional. 

Maharaj filed the lawsuit after police executed search warrants on the SDMS's media house Central Broadcasting Services after Maharaj made a series of incendiary statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15. 

Maharaj claimed that citizens living in Tobago are lazy and labelled the men as rapists.

While no criminal charges have been brought against Maharaj and he suggested that such was inevitable while addressing supporters during SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebrations.

The idea of joining Maharaj's lawsuit or filing a separate case was considered by trade union leaders after Public Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke was charged with sedition over statements he made during a protest at TSTT, last year. 

Maharaj is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, and Stefan Ramkissoon. Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, SC, is leading the State's legal team.  

 - by Derek Achong