He admits to coup ‘crimes’
Judge: This evidence can’t be used to prove he’s guilty
Keino Swamber firstname.lastname@example.org
TREASON, false imprisonment, possession of a firearm to endanger life and possession of ammunition to endanger life.
These are the offences Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr admits, for the first time, he committed during the 1990 attempted coup which he led.
The evidence of Bakr’s involvement in the events which began on the evening of July 27, 1990 was read by Justice Mark Mohammed to jurors in the trial in which Bakr is charged with communicating a statement having seditious intention, two counts of inciting to demand with menaces with intent to steal and endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace.
The trial is being heard before Mohammed and a nine-member jury with six alternates in the Third Criminal Court at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.
The charges against Bakr arose out of comments he made during an Eid-ul-Fitr sermon delivered at the Jamaat’s Mucurapo Road, St James mosque on November 4, 2005. Portions of the sermon about the collection of Zakaat were aired later that day during CNC 3’s 7 p.m. newscast.
The bad character evidence was tendered through a formal agreement by the prosecution, led by Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, and Bakr’s attorney Wayne Sturge.
The prosecution is relying on the evidence as proof that 70-year-old Bakr of La Puerta, Diego Martin, has a propensity or tendency to engage in insurrectionist behaviour since the offence of treason is closely related to the offence of sedition. According to Mohammed, the State is asking the jurors to take into consideration that Bakr, in 1990, led a group of 113 men in an insurrection and that his audience in 2005 was mainly comprised of young men.
The State is also seeking to prove that Bakr was speaking literally during the Eid sermon when he said, among other things: “There is going to be a big war in the Muslim community—a real war. Lives may be lost but there is going to be a war in the Muslim community, come next year, about the collection and distribution of Zakaat.”
Mohammed warned the jurors that the evidence of Bakr’s involvement in the attempted coup must be applied very carefully and its purpose is not to generate prejudice against him.
“You must guard against that,” Mohammed said.
“The events of 1990, of itself, cannot be used to prove that the defendant is guilty of this offence (of sedition).
“The defence is saying that the defendant’s past should not be relevant and that there is an important difference between 1990 and 2005, and that you should not pay any attention to this evidence.”
Mohammed said the State bears the burden of proving Bakr’s propensity.
“If it (the State) does not, you must reject the evidence. If it (the State) does, you must determine to what extent it helps in finding the accused guilty for the offence charged. Even if you find that the defendant has a propensity, it is not automatic that he is guilty of the offence for which he is charged. This evidence is just a small part of the case.”
Included in the evidence heard by the jurors is the fact that about 70 of the Muslimeen members, led by Bakr, stormed Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) shortly after 5.30 p.m. on Friday July 27, 1990.
A second group of about 40, commanded by Bilaal Abdullah, stormed the Parliament building (Red House) while it was in session. Among those in the Red House were then prime minister Arthur NR Robinson and other ministers. The politicians in the Red House were held at gunpoint whilst visitors and civilians were allowed to leave.
The police headquarters, opposite the Red House, was set alight by a car bomb. Two vehicles were booby trapped and strategically placed outside TTT and were not disarmed until August 1, 1990.
“Abu Bakr appeared on television during the Friday evening and alleged that the Government had been overthrown and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet were under arrest,” Mohammed read.
“The Members of Parliament at the Red House were kept bound hand and foot and made to lie prone on the floor at gunpoint. During the Friday evening, Abdullah wanted the Prime Minister to give orders for the troops to be withdrawn. He (Robinson) did not cooperate and was shot and wounded.”
The evidence, contained in just over three pages, detailed some of the events leading up to the eventual release of the hostages and the surrender of the Muslimeen members on August 1.
The trial is expected to continue on Tuesday.