Conflicting accounts from police, says lawyer
Camille Bethel email@example.com
A silent demonstration by members of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) on the second anniversary of the 2011 limited State of Emergency outside the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain ended with the arrest of trade unionist Ancel Roget yesterday.
The group of protesters was outside the Hall of Justice, dressed in black T-shirts with the words “We will not forget” printed across them and black bandanas tied over their mouths when police, accompanied by deputy Commissioner of Police (CoP) Mervyn Richardson, unexpectedly approached them.
Richardson approached Roget, JTUM president and president-general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and warned that they were breaking the law by wearing the bandanas.
He then asked that Roget get his people to remove the bandanas and stop protesting in front of the Hall of Justice because they were disturbing the court. The court is, however, on vacation.
“I am asking you to do two things for me—your members who have their faces blocked, it is a security risk, don’t do that; and the second thing is to desist from marching around here. You are disturbing the court and you are disturbing the free flow of the court,” Richardson told Roget.
In response, Roget, who refused to budge, asked Richardson to specify what law was being broken.
Richardson responded by saying, “The Public Festival Act,” then asked Roget if he was not going to adhere to his request, to which Roget responded, “I am not saying that.” Roget said he wanted to know what letter of the law they were breaking.
Richardson suggested several times that Roget accompany him to the Central Police Station, at the corner St Vincent and Sackville Streets, to discuss the issue, but when Roget refused to start walking, Richardson attempted to forcefully pull him along.
TV6 reporter Nathalie Chrysostom asked if Roget was being arrested. Richardson denied this, saying he wanted Roget to accompany him to discuss the issue.
When Roget finally did go with Richardson, it was reluctantly and with his (Richardson’s) hand on his right arm escorting him away from the Hall of Justice and to the Sackville Street entrance of the station.
The protesters, who commented that Roget was being manhandled, began chanting, “We shall overcome,” as they followed the trade union leader and the police to Sackville Street.
Attorney Vashiest Maharaj was called in by Vincent Cabrera, leader of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU), to represent Roget.
Maharaj was met by Snr Sup Wayne Dick, who briefly spoke with him outside, telling him it was against the law for the protesters to have their faces covered, then escorted him inside the building to meet with Roget and Richardson.
When asked why JTUM was allowed to march during a similar protest last year with their faces covered, Dick said, “A man smokes cocaine and there are people who see it and say it is okay, but it is against the law. Okay, I am the senior officer here and the law speaks against masks and bandanas, and if the law speaks against that I will not stand and see the law being broken and action is not taken.”
A few minutes after the attorney’s arrival, Roget, accompanied by Maharaj, exited the compound.
Addressing the media, Maharaj said he had received conflicting accounts from the senior police officers on why Roget had been detained.
“What happened is the police are giving a different account from my client. My client’s instructions are he was taken forcefully, against his will and taken into police custody. When I got to the station, that was confirmed by Mr Dick.
“However, when we spoke with Mr Richardson, he denied that. He said Mr Roget came voluntarily and forced himself into the police station. He had warned Mr Roget that he was free to leave the station whenever he wished. Mr Roget did not exercise that right and I then informed him that Mr Roget is now exercising that right, and that was when Mr Roget left,” he said.
Asked whether any action would be taken by Roget, Maharaj said he had not spoken to Roget on it, and so it would be premature for him to speak of further action.
After being released, Roget told the media the country’s democracy is under serious attack.
“And ours is the profound responsibility, every single citizen has a duty and a responsibility to guard jealously that democracy and it will manifest in many different ways, the likes of which we saw this morning,” he said.
He said JTUM came to the Hall of Justice to protest because they felt it was the appropriate place to signal that justice is not being meted out to the people of the country.