Last update: 13-Dec-2013 3:20 am
Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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‘I thought it was another coup’
“I thought it was another coup.” This was the explanation DCP Mervyn Richardson gave yesterday to justify his intervention in a demonstration staged by the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) outside the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain. Richardson detained Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget during the intervention.
While commenting on the incident at yesterday’s police press briefing, Richardson said: “The Police Commissioner and I were in a meeting at National Security Ministry when I got word that there were people outside the Hall of Justice and they appeared to be in a state where people were fearful that another 1990 insurrection was about to take place.” Richardson noted that the demonstrators were wearing black clothing, had their faces covered in handkerchiefs and were carrying “big black sticks with flags.”
“You didn’t know who it was, I thought it was a coup myself. I had police standing by in readiness,” he said. The demonstration, which began around 9 am, was organised by labour leaders and social activists to mark the second anniversary of the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar between August 21 and December 5, 2011.
Roget, along with a little over three dozen demonstrators, were all dressed in black and wore T-shirts with the writing: “We will not forget August 21, 2011.” The demonstrators marched silently around the Hall of Justice.
However, the activity took an unexpected twist when Richardson intervened to stop it, deeming the action illegal. Richardson said the demonstrators were breaking the law by concealing their faces and blocking the free flow of pedestrians on the sidewalk. He later said they also did not have police permission to stage the event.
In the process, Richardson bypassed his juniors and took matters into his own hands by detaining Roget for almost 20 minutes, after he allegedly refused to comply with his (Richardson) initial request.
Roget was personally escorted by Richardson to the Central Police Station at St Vincent Street, where he spent a short time being questioned by Richardson before his two attorneys arrived. He was eventually allowed to leave and returned to his fellow demonstrators. However, as a result of the intervention, the demonstration was discontinued. Richardson said he asked Roget if he had sought permission from the Police Commissioner for the demonstration.
“When I questioned him on whether he made an application to march or gather he answered in the negative,” Richardson said. “I asked him a number of other questions which he could not supply answers for, so I did advise him to take his protest to other places in a more peaceful manner and to desist from blocking the way.” In an interview outside the police station, Roget’s attorney, Vasheist Maharaj, said his client’s version of the events were different to Richardson’s.
“My client’s instructions are he was taken forcefully against his will and taken into police custody. When I got into the station, this was confirmed by ACP Wayne Dick,” Maharaj said. “However, when we reached to speak to DCP Richardson he denied that and he said that Mr Roget came voluntarily and forced himself into the police station.” Maharaj said his client would be considering legal action.
In addressing the issue, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams advised the public on the laws relating to protests and public gatherings. “What I want to share with the nation is the law does not allow people of their own volition to engage in public meetings and public marches...Once you engage in public meeting or public march without permission it is illegal,” Williams said.
He said citizens who wished to hold such meetings and demonstrations should apply to do so between 14 days and 48 hours before the event. He said he would only refuse to grant permission if the police could not adequately oversee an event. “You see we need to balance things in the country, because we are dealing with a democratic republic and people want to express their concerns about things happening in the country and in any real democracy people can so express,” Williams said.
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