IAN KEVIN RAMDHANIE
Caribbean Institute for Security
and Public Safety
Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds yesterday criticised police attempts to repress Tuesday’s protest outside the Parliament, saying citizens were now losing their rights. Contributing to debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 in the absence of Senator Camille Robinson-Regis, who was out of the country, he said the Government was seeking to disempower citizens. Hinds said demonstrators had all rights to express their opinions on the controversial legislation.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan interjected with “wajang” and “hooliganism” as he objected to Hinds’ stance on the protest. He asked if Hinds wanted to protect and promote the behaviour displayed outside the Parliament, where government senators were jeered on their way to the debate. Ramlogan said he was one of those who was booed by the People’s National Movement (PNM) supporters as he shook hands with United National Congress (UNC) supporters.
For a few minutes, the debate descended into an exchange of banter, with Hinds saying: “I will not be distracted by a ‘jokey’ attorney general.” Using the struggles of South Africa during apartheid and Mahatma Gandhi’s defiance in India against British colonial rule, Hinds asked whether T&T was becoming a banana republic. He said: “The people of this country have a right to express their views emotively on this matter if they wish. “I told you people have fought, died and bled for their constitution and their rights and the people of T&T are no different once they confine themselves to the law. “Even Mahatma Gandhi, by civil disobedience, refused to accept the laws of British colonialism in India and others in South Africa refused to accept an unjust law. The people are entitled to express themselves and this is not a banana republic.
“Imagine the people are outside the Parliament expressing themselves democratically as they must and there were barriers put for them. “The next thing I read in the newspapers is that the police were doing their work and the demonstrators were expressing their constitutional selves, following the laws of the police, all of a sudden the police got instructions from somebody.
“I heard the Commissioner of Police saying he gave no such instructions, that it must have come from the senior officer on the scene of the Parliament. “The question is where did he get those instructions from to go all of a sudden and start to push the people away where they were all along and a little scrimmage and issue broke out.”
Speaking afterwards, Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray said Hinds’ contribution was a continuation of the intimidatory tactics of the PNM. She said while she was accustomed to the PNM’s actions, some of her other colleagues were disturbed at being booed while entering and leaving Parliament. She said it was a shame that after 52 years of Independence, there were people who still attempted to continue a divide-and-rule policy in order to gain control of the population.
Flashback: As the debate began on Tuesday, hundreds of people protesting the bill gathered near the entrance to Parliament and booed several government ministers as they made their way to the debate. While protesters sang and played drums, officers from the Guard and Emergency Branch pushed back the barriers placed around the front the building, sending protesters onto busy Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
Those supporting the UNC were urged to assemble near the Breakfast Shed as they awaited the arrival of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and other ministers. As the protest grew, riot police rushed into the crowd, pushing down an elderly woman and carting off at least three men. The men were placed in a bus but were released later. In the weekly police press briefing, public information officer Supt Joanne Archie said protesters were moved to avoid confrontation with pro-government supporters. She said police only moved protesters who were obstructing the pavement outside the Parliament.