Guyana and the War on Terror II
December 7, 2006
IN YESTERDAY'S report on the update on the hunt for the person behind the by now infamous e-mailed terror threat, President Bharrat Jagdeo indicated that the person found culpable will be charged under the Terrorism Act.
The President was referring, more specifically, to the Criminal Laws Offences (Amendment) Act 2002. The act, controversial when it was first passed, provides the following definition for what can be construed as an act of terrorism:
"Whoever with intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of Guyana or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or other legal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature or by any other means whatsoever, in such a manner as to cause, or likely to cause, death of, or injuries to any person or persons or loss of, or damage to, or destruction of property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community or causes damage or destruction of any property or equipment used or intended to be used for the defence of Guyana or in connection with any other purposes of the government of Guyana or any of its agencies, or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the Government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act commits a terrorist act."
The President's justification of his assertion that the e-mailer will be charged under the act was that the e-mail was "designed to cause panic." It is true, as the President said that a strong signal needs to be sent to make sure that a similar incident doesn't take place.
The disruption of the civil aviation sector and the cost in man hours and other expenses is not one to be taken lightly, particularly if this turns out to be a hoax as is highly likely.
Yet we have to be wary of too zealous or overly enthusiastic application of the recent anti-terrorism legislation.
Why? While a terrorism prosecution, even sans conviction, may make for a couple of good headlines and a favourable line in the next U.S. State Department's international anti-terrorism report, if it is construed to be unjust or disproportionate to the offence, the damage to the credibility of our already beleaguered judicial system would be indeed be crippling.
Presume, for example, that the Ayatuv e-mail was some ill-conceived prank, wherein the individual or individuals responsible possessed no reasonable means to make their threat become a reality. Imagine that the perpetrator was found to be an overly imaginative high-school student, following an uncharacteristic whim. It is unlikely that the sentencing strictures available under the Terrorism Act would give the judge presiding over the case the sort of latitude for leniency that such a situation would undoubtedly warrant.
And if the person charged gets off, the precedent it would set for future prosecution would not be a healthy one.
Contrast this with the not so recent slaughter of the five Kaieteur News pressmen, which involved attacks on other persons not remotely involved in any way with the newspaper. It should be noted that Jermaine "Skinny" Charles, Dwight Da Silva, and Quincy "Jimmy Dog" Evans were all not charged with carrying out a terrorist act. Yet while there was no overt expression of intent to "threaten", "disrupt" or "strike terror" as can be construed from the M. Ayatuv e-mail, the attacks did cause terror, destruction of personal property and loss of life.
Any legitimate threat against the sovereignty, integrity and unity (however debatable the latter may be) of Guyana needs to be treated with not just seriousness but a zero tolerance attitude. The Terrorism Act of 2002 provides the means through which the law can deal with such occurrences.
How the act is used however will be what ultimately defines its usefulness,