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Dear Editor,
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day was “Journalism and Freedom of Expression in the Context of the Current Global Environmental Crisis.” This, I must admit, was necessary and quite timely. However, amidst the Global Environmental Crisis, my mind is locked into Freedom of Expression where Guyana is concerned, especially regarding what now obtains as against what used to be in a bygone era.
Firstly, let me emphasise that a fearless, free, and independent press is a vital element in any democracy. It gives citizens the information they need to hold their leaders accountable and promotes economic development. The right to press freedom is enshrined in the founding documents of the United Nations as well as in many national constitutions.
I add that generally, in a dictatorship, a ‘fearless, free and independent’ press is missing as citizens do not have rights in a dictatorship. They are not allowed to criticise or challenge the government, speak their minds, practise the religion of their choice, and be safe in their homes from governmental or law enforcement intrusion. And this was not so for a very long time in Guyana, namely the pre-1992 era.
Back then, LFS Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC) used its youth arm to terrorise political opponents. Christened the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), this pack, at one point, was led by Robert Corbin and worked in close collaboration with the House of Israel in carrying out acts of violence and intimidation against WPA members especially.
The horde terrorised innocent Guyanese and politicians who opposed the repressive politics of President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. This PNC youth arm, with full support from the Guyana Police Force (GPF), meted out beatings and killings as tactics in suppressing innocent Guyanese who dared to challenge the decisions and status quo set by the LFS himself.
During those years the PNC recruited myriads of Guyanese youths and trained them in various forms of political thuggery to accomplish the principles of party paramountcy. I recall the murder of many innocent persons because of their perceived support for the Dr Rodney-led Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and the Dr Cheddi Jagan-led People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Incidentally, Rodney became a victim of the regime in this era.
Editor, space allows me to just skim the surface – the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney (as mentioned before), and numerous other murders – Father Bernard Darke, a Jesuit priest; Ohene Koama, and Edward Dublin (WPA activists, killed in 1979 and 1980 respectively); or Jagat Ramessar and Jack Parmanand, shot down by soldiers during the 1973 rigged elections, as they attempted to prevent soldiers from confiscating ballot boxes. These are mere snippets of political violence that have profused from the vague corners of Congress Place.
My point is that ‘press freedom’ was not even a topic back then. So, when today, I hear of people criticising the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) for intimidating Journalists or stymieing ‘press freedom’, I am most aghast.
Indeed, like Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Public Affairs, Kwame McCoy, I cannot help but admit that the “PPP/C Government (is) Gov’t resolute in its commitment to press freedom.” Many cowards back then have now found courage, and not being fearful anymore, they are now merely agents provocateurs. They seem unable to contain and constrain themselves in the milieu of unbridled freedom and overriding democracy. Their captiousness is all too predictable and nauseating and hopefully will end.
In this vein, I am pleased that Minister McCoy, during his address at a Climate Town Hall forum, held in observance of the 31st United Nations World Press Freedom Day, noted that “Freedom of the Press has always been a cornerstone in the ideological outlook of the current administration (PPP/C), and it is not accidental that successive PPP/C Governments have forged an enabling environment for Guyanese media operatives to work freely and thrive.”
Today in Guyana, irrespective of the issue, whether environmental, crime, or foreign policy, there is an inhibited and free media culture prevailing. Indeed, almost daily, journalists – and those who defend them – face immense risks to their safety, and the safety of their families, on account of their profession. The number of deaths and incidents of violence, harassment, threats of arbitrary detention, censorship, and intimidation among journalists as they pursue reporting are all increasing.
My question is “When and where in Guyana can we see this?

Yours truly,
HB. Singh

The post appeared first on Guyana Times.

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