The trial of suspended APNU/AFC Member of Parliament (MP) Annette Ferguson over her alleged use of Facebook to commit a cybercrime is ongoing before Senior Magistrate Leron Daly in her Georgetown court.
In a post on that social media platform, Ferguson is accused of stating that Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Colonel Omar Khan is part of a killing squad, and she is charged under the provisions of Guyana’s Cyber Crime Act for using a computer, on June 15, 2021, to humiliate the Joint Services member.
The former junior Public Infrastructure Minister under the previous Coalition Government was released on self-bail after denying the charge. When her trial continued on Thursday before Senior Magistrate Leron Daly, Police Assistant Superintendent Jhared Koulen, a Cyber Security Specialist, testified about the role he played in probing the allegation against the MP.
He said that on June 16, 2021, he received instructions from his superior to take screenshots of the post Ferguson had made and print same, which he did.
With permission from Ferguson’s attorney ASP Koulen recalled that he checked her Facebook activity log, but noticed that the post was removed.
Following his testimony, eight printed screenshots of the post were tendered into evidence, and the trial was adjourned until September 30.
The senior GDF rank is reported to have made a complaint with the Police Cyber Crime Unit after Ferguson, in a Facebook post, said he would be in charge of a killing squad. As such, the former Government Minister was called in for questioning at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters at Eve Leary, Georgetown.
Police subsequently instituted the charge against Ferguson after receiving advice from the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
After Ferguson’s arrest, members of the Opposition had come out attacking the Police Force and the PPP/C Government, but Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn had condemned this, especially remarks made by then Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon, who had claimed that Ferguson was arrested on spurious grounds, and that it was a clear case of political persecution against the Opposition member.
The former Opposition Leader had also called for the withdrawal of what he had said were “spurious, baseless and politically-motivated charges,” but Benn, in a subsequent missive, had dismissed Harmon’s remarks.
“Mr Harmon, of all persons, should need no reminding that all persons – inclusive of Members of Parliament and also members of the APNU/AFC – are subject to the Laws of Guyana, adherence to which the Guyana Police Force is duty bound to enforce without fear or favour,” Benn had said.
The Home Affairs Minister had gone on to further address what he described as Harmon’s natural reflexive instincts to make unwarranted attacks about partisan “political persecution”, “weaponising of the Guyana Police Force”, and the dire warnings of civil unrest.
Benn had said that Harmon’s statements were not only grossly untrue, but were of malicious intent. In fact, he had said that Harmon’s statements were seemingly intent on continuing the effort to shield and protect from judicial review lawbreaking by persons who are intent on precipitating a breakdown of law and order and the undermining of democracy by initiating civil unrest.
Passed in the National Assembly in 2016 by the former APNU/AFC Government, the Cyber Crimes Act had catered for, inter alia: illegal access to a computer system; illegal interception; illegal data interference; illegal acquisition of data; illegal system interference; unauthorised receiving or granting of access to computer data; computer-related forgery; computer- related fraud; offences affecting critical infrastructure; identity-related offences; child pornography; child luring, and violation of privacy, among a slew of other offences.
It treats with the creation of cybercrime offences, and contains provisions for penalties, investigations and prosecutions of such. Despite criticisms of the bill at that time, the then Government was unmoved, insisting that the measure was for national security.
Ferguson has been charged contrary to Section 19(3)(a) of the Cyber Crime Act. That section of the law states that a person commits an offence if he/she uses a computer system to disseminate any information, statement or image that causes damage to the reputation of another person, knowing same to be false; or subjects another person to public ridicule, contempt, hatred, or embarrassment by the dissemination of such a statement when they know same to be false.
Persons charged under the Cyber Crime Act, if convicted, face time in prison and hefty fines.
In fact, a person who commits an offence under this section renders himself/herself liable to the following penalties: (a) on summary conviction, to a fine of $5 million and to imprisonment for three years; and (b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of $10 million and to imprisonment for five years.
Meanwhile, over at the Demerara High Court, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Ferguson, whom he alleges had made certain slanderous statements about him. (G1)