BAKR WALKS: Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr leaves the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, yesterday after Justice Mark Mohammed ordered a retrial.
–Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY
NEW TRIAL FOR BAKR
Jury fails to agree on sedition charges
Keino Swamber firstname.lastname@example.org
AFTER listening to evidence for approximately two months and after deliberating yesterday for about five and a half hours, the jury in the sedition trial of Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr failed to arrive at a unanimous verdict.
As a result, 70-year-old Bakr, also known as Lennox Phillip, who led an attempted coup against the government on July 27, 1990, has been ordered to face a retrial on the charges of communicating a statement having a seditious intention, two counts of inciting to demand with menaces with intent to steal and endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace.
The four charges 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 (similar to tithes offered by the Christian community) were aired later that day during CNC 3’s 7 p.m. newscast.
On the first count, the nine-member, all-female jury was divided five to four. On the first incitement charge, they were divided six to three. They however had not yet arrived at a position in relation to the second incitement charge and the charge of endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace.
The State was represented by Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and attorneys Renuka Rambhajan and Shelly-Ann Gajadhar while attorneys Wayne Sturge, Hasine Shaikh, Viveka Pargass and Naveen Maharaj represented Bakr.
Mohammed’s summation, which commenced on Monday in the Third Criminal Court at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, was concluded at around 9.55 a.m. yesterday, following which the jurors retired to the jury room to deliberate on the evidence.
In court were three of Bakr’s four wives and his sons.
At around 12.47 p.m., the jurors indicated to Mohammed that they needed clarification on a legal issue. They then returned to continue their deliberations, but at the end of the stipulated three-hour period, announced they had not arrived at a verdict upon which they could all agree on any of the counts.
They were asked whether they were likely to arrive at a verdict if given more time, and the foreman, after consulting with the others, said yes.
Returning to the jury room at around 1.36 p.m., the jurors continued their deliberations until they were sent for at around 4 p.m. by Mohammed. Again, they told the judge they had not yet arrived at a unanimous verdict. It was at that stage that Mohammed asked the foreman to indicate how, without saying in whose favour, they were divided.
After consulting with attorneys for the State and defence, Mohammed said it was clear, given the time which elapsed, that no useful purpose would be served in asking the jurors to continue their deliberations as that would be bordering on being oppressive.
Mohammed said though that maybe the time had come for legislators to consider amending the laws to allow jurors, as obtained in other jurisdictions, to suspend their deliberations at a certain time during the day and return the following day to continue. He said this would be beneficial especially in trials lasting several months.
Before discharging the jurors, Mohammed commended them, saying they displayed conscientiousness during their period of service. He explained that he only had the power to accept a majority verdict if they were divided seven to two or eight to one.
Asked to comment on the outcome of the trial, Bakr, a diabetic patient, said only: “It was a long day.”
During the sermon, Bakr had told the congregation that the system of collecting and distributing Zakaat was designed by the Muslim prophet Muhammad for the purpose of eradicating poverty among the Muslim community.
He said the Muslims in Trinidad were going about the collection and distribution of Zakaat in the wrong way and not in accordance with Allah’s (God’s) instructions.
Bakr said to his membership that Allah promised to provide for them and their children.
“How come you are poor?” Bakr asked.
“You either doing something that you not supposed to do, or you not doing something what you are supposed to do or somebody has taken your sustenance, in which case, you go and take it back.”
Bakr said the nation’s wealth, derived from the natural resources provided by Allah for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, was not being equally shared.
“If somebody takes something that belongs to you and they do not want to give it back to you, then it is your duty in the Qur’an (Muslim holy book), by the support of Allah, to take it back from them. It is yours, and somebody took it away from you....”
Bakr said Prophet Muhammad used to designate people to go and collect Zakaat.
“The Muslims in this country, they making joke because I don’t know who we have in this community (who) could send anybody to collect any Zakaat from these so-called Muslims who rich. So that is why I’m saying now; we going to put it in place. And I could foresee a war. I am not serious. Listen to what I am saying. I am dead serious.
“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.”
Bakr said all rich Muslims would have to pay the Zakaat at the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen into a Zakaat fund.
In an interview with CNC3 cameraman Mano Ragbir after the sermon, Bakr said he would have attempted to meet with other Muslim leaders in order to arrive at a consensus on how to deal with the Zakaat issue.
Case at a glance
Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, 70, is charged with:
• unlawfully inciting persons present to demand with menaces property of members of the Muslim community who are not members of the
• unlawfully inciting persons present to demand with menaces property of (former head of the Inter-Religious Organisation) Noble Khan,
with intention to steal
• unlawfully inciting persons present
to commit a breach of the peace by
enforcing the collection of Zakaat against members of the Muslim
community who are not members
of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen
• uttering a seditious speech, the
purport of which was to engender and promote in his listeners feelings of
ill-will or hostility between members of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen and other members of the Muslim community who are not members of the
Judge: Justice Mark Mohammed
Court: Third Criminal Court at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain
State attorneys: Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, Renuka Rambhajan and Shelly-Ann Gajadhar
Defence attorneys: Wayne Sturge, Hasine Shaikh