Guyana president's libel case heard in court

Sunday, August 21, 2011

File photo of President Jagdeo from 2007.
Image: Agência Brasil .

Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo seeks more than GUY$10 million (nearly US$50,000) in damages for an article published in Kaieteur News suggesting he was a racist, a court heard on Friday.

The June 2010 article headed "King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference" prompted Jagdeo to sue the newspaper, columnist Freddie Kissoon who wrote the article, Editor Adam Harris and National Media and Publishing Company Ltd.

The President's affidavit stated, "For the respondents/defendants to publish the aforesaid allegations is not only libelous but is also malicious, irresponsible and inflammatory, calculated and designed to excite racial hostilities amongst the people of Guyana and to cause a racial rift between the people of Guyana and their democratically elected Government."

Dr Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat testified in the proceedings, and told Justice Ian Chang that he was convinced the article accused President Jagdeo of being a racist, leaving the reader with a negative connotation. The witness said that the newspaper published a number of articles which implied members of the Cabinet and Government officials were racist and discriminatory towards Afro-Guyanese. Luncheon stated that he had never seen any evidence of racism or racial policies practised by the President or the Government. Jagdeo contended that the article had caused "great public embarrassment, held us up to odium and ridicule, both nationally and internationally."

Nigel Hughes cross-examined Luncheon for the defence, asking about the ethnicity of the persons serving overseas as Government diplomats and head of agencies. He replied that they were Indians, with the exception of one person. Attorney of law Anil Nandlall interrupted, arguing there was no justification for the defence to be pursuing cross-examination of that description, which sparked legal arguments between the lawyers of the President and the defendants.

The matter was adjourned to Wednesday for continuation and ruling.