Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah yesterday condemned the firing of tear gas on demonstrators during last Sunday’s Push Back march at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain. He described the action as unnecessary and an abuse of power.
Abdulah also expressed concern about statements made by senior officers of the T&T Police Service (TTPS), including Acting Commissioner McDonald Jacob, that the tear gas was used shortly after protesters started chanting “Rowley Must Go.”
“Mr Jacob surmised that this chant could have been the precursor to some other kind of actions that were riotous. This assertion would be deemed totally absurd if it was made by a supporter of the ruling party, but coming from the hierarchy of the TTPS, it is downright dangerous!” Abdulah said.
“The MSJ position is very clear. We support and will defend the right of citizens to exercise their “freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and assembly; freedom of conscience and the right to express political views”—all of which are expressly established in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. These are part of the bedrock of a democratic society.”
An article in yesterday’s newspaper inaccurately reported that Abdulah had been arrested in connection with the protest. However, Abdulah was not at the Queen’s Park Savannah march and was not an organiser of the demonstration, which ended with the arrests of 12 persons. Umar Abdullah, an activist with the First Wave Movement, was among those arrested and he has since been charged with leading a march without the permission from the Commissioner of Police. The eleven others have been released pending further investigations.
Yesterday in a release addressing the protest, however, Abdulah said the rights of citizens have been very severely restricted by law, especially the Summary Offences Act, which originated as an old colonial law designed by the British to keep the working classes repressed and “under manners”.
He added: “Since Independence, governments have strengthened provisions of this colonial law, which amendments have further undermined citizens’ constitutional rights. Freedom of expression and of assembly are examples of this curtailment as “permission” is required to hold a public march. Over time the TTPS has also wrongfully included pickets and other protests in their definition of what requires “their permission.”
“For the TTPS to now take the position that citizens expressing their political views (Rowley Must Go) is a threat to public order and requiring the use of tear gas is taking us down the slippery slope of a police state where the coercive arm of the state is used to put down—violently if they deem it necessary—any protest against the government in office. The TTPS must not be used as a weapon against citizens in the interest of any government. We call on the CoP (Ag) to explain his position and that of his senior officers. And we call on the Law Association and other civic bodies to issue statements on this matter. Silence is not an option.”