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Discord over protest rights
After a two-hour meeting between members of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams at the Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday the two parties failed to agree on the public’s right to protest. Though both sides agreed trade unions had the right to protest and picket peacefully, Williams said that any member of the public had to seek police permission before engaging in any form of protest.
That meant a single person picketing on the street could be held by police, it was stated. In an interview after the meeting, president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union Ancel Roget was disappointed that Williams’ “interpretation of the law” was that normal citizens could not picket or protest peacefully without police permission. Roget said the meeting dealt with instances where union members were chastised by the police for not obeying the law.
However, Roget said, there was no law prohibiting people from protesting or picketing. “Our members have the right to peaceful picketing. The law gives us the right to peaceful protest,” he added. Roget said Williams had agreed that union members had the right to peaceful protest and said Williams said he would communicate to his officers that union members had a right to peaceful picketing.
However, Williams was adamant that permission needed to be sought from the police for protests outside of union business. Roget added: “Could you imagine, with all of this discontent in the society today, if for one reason or another there was a need to protest in a peaceful and lawful way, to bring attention to any particular line minister, you now have to get the permission of the police to do that?” He said such a stance would deny communities the opportunity to communicate clearly their level of dissatisfaction and discontent.
He added: “We will not relent or give up this right. If the police continue to go down that road it will be very dangerous. “It will be a road of suppressing these communities and suppressing the voice which speaks of discontent in these communities.”
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