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Sect loses initial battle to stop detention

Friday, March 7, 2014

High Court judge Vasheist Kokaram has thrown out a bid by members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, who are challenging their continued detention after being refused entry by immigration officials at the Piarco International Airport on Monday. In dismissing the lawsuit yesterday, Kokaram said the claim and evidence filed by the group’s local legal representative, Farai Masaisai, on Wednesday, were vague and filled with procedural deficits which caused them to fail. “Before we reach why they are being detained, we have to ask ourselves why they were here in the first place,” Kokaram said. Masaisai’s claim that he was not allowed to communicate properly with his clients at their hotel, which he said hampered his ability to obtain the necessary instructions and documents, was not supported by evidence, the judge said. 

Despite their legal defeat, Kokaram told the group’s attorneys to return to their clients to obtain more detailed instructions before refiling the lawsuit. He also warned Chief Immigration Officer Keith Sampson, who was present in court, to tell his officers not to bar the attorneys’ meeting with the group. Kokaram also said there was no evidence presented which supported the group’s claim that they were being kept in inhumane conditions at the airport and at the Piarco International Hotel. Their only allegation on the issue, he noted, was that they were only taken to the hotel and given a meal more than 24 hours after being refused entry. 


No evidence to support claim
He raised issue with Masaisai’s inability to immediately provide documentary evidence of the parental rights of six of the group’s members, who are between nine and 16. Because of the circumstances in the case and the possibility that the rights of minors and adults might be intertwined, he said, they might need separate attorneys. “We must ensure the minors are aware of what is happening. The court must be satisfied that the minors’ interests are being heard and protected,” Kokaram said. During the short hearing in the Port-of-Spain High Court, the group’s attorneys also contended that the procedure used in refusing the group entry was improper, as they only speak French but documents given to them were in English. Kokaram also rejected this submission because of a lack of evidence. 


In response to the claim, lawyers from the office of the Solicitor General maintained the State did not have to justify the group’s detention, as they were not being kept by the State but rather by West Jet, the airline they arrived on and would be departing on.  The State was represented by Paul Issac and Sanjeev Lalla. According to the limited evidence filed before Kokaram, four of the children and one of the adults have Israeli citizenship, two of the minors, both 16, are Americans and the other two adults are Canadian. Their attorneys confirmed they were en route to Guatemala when they were stopped by local immigration authorities. 


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