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Ramesh on Roget’s August arrest: Move to muzzle unions
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, says the Government is conspiring to “ban” peaceful public demonstrations in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Since, he says, the Government will not be able to “take the jamming” from protests that are expected during the election season.
Maharaj made the comment yesterday as he delivered a ten-page opinion on the illegality of the arrest of Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget last August who led a silent protest to mark the second anniversary of the 2011 state of emergency outside the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.
Maharaj, addressing a Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) media conference at Rienzi Complex, Couva, said under the Constitution and common law, citizens are guaranteed the right to hold peaceful public demonstrations without notifying the Commissioner of Police or seeking police permission. He said acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams had no power or legal merit to arrest Roget because he did not seek permission for his peaceful public demonstration last August.
Maharaj suggested the reason behind the arrest was “a part of the government’s policy in the upcoming election season to ban public protests and to say that the CoP has a discretion to allow public protest or not.” He said: “They cannot take the jamming that they know coming from the population of T&T. So what they want to do is to put a plaster on the mouth of the public and they want to stifle protests so that they would not be able to be scrutinised in a way that a democracy is scrutinised.”
Maharaj was flanked by Roget, Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Trade Union leader Vincent Cabrera and All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union president Nirvan Maharaj, as well as, other trade union leaders. Maharaj said the CoP, in defending the arrest, contended that trade unions were free to picket employers without police permission, but permission must be sought to hold peaceful public demonstrations.
He gave his commitment and full support to assist the JTUM in any battle, public or legal, in order to ensure that citizens’ rights are not trampled upon by the Government or any other government. “This assault by the Government on the right to peaceful public protest has serious implications for the enjoyment of the right to the expression of political views and the enjoyment of human and fundamental rights in our country,” he said.
Roget told reporters the union is “hell-bent” on pursuing its peaceful public demonstrations. Both men declined to state whether they would be contesting the legality of Roget’s arrest and detention.