Following an investigation ordered by the Office of the President, a detective from the Guyana Police Force yesterday questioned the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of Stabroek News, Anand Persaud and a driver attached to the newspaper on a visit by reporters to the National Intelligence Centre (NIC) in the compound of Castellani House.
After interviewing the EiC, the police intercepted the vehicle used in the visit to the NIC on Middle Street and ordered the driver to go to Police Headquarters, Eve Leary where he was made to give a statement without the benefit of counsel.
Persaud yesterday condemned the commandeering of the vehicle and the manner in which the driver was treated saying these tactics were more akin to a police state than a developing democracy. Persaud added that it was evident from the police’s line of questioning that there was no basis at all for any investigation and therefore the detaining of the vehicle and the interrogation of the driver were exceptionable.
The EiC stated that the Office of the President (OP) instruction to the police to conduct an investigation was in itself remarkable and a futile attempt to intimidate the newspaper. He said that it was important that the public learn who is in charge of the NIC and what it is up to and the newspaper had no regrets about visiting and reporting on the centre.
As reported in the last Sunday Stabroek, on November 15, Stabroek News visited the NIC for the purpose of determining the composition of its board and to speak to someone in charge.
When this newspaper arrived at the gate leading into the compound, the guard on duty allowed this newspaper access. He was told by the reporter that a visit was being made to the unit.
When this newspaper arrived at the unit a few moments later, the unpainted concrete two-storey building seemed locked and there was no guard or anyone visible either inside or outside.
It was noticed though that there were some vehicles parked under a shed attached to the building close to a side door. This newspaper later found what appeared to be the main door and upon entering walked into a small opening from which three doors could be accessed. This newspaper knocked and attempted to open two but they were locked. The third door opened and inside were a chair and items belonging to a woman.
On looking through a side window, a woman was seen going down a staircase on the outside of the building. Later this newspaper met the woman outside and it was explained that an attempt was being made to speak with the person in charge. The woman then entered the building while dialling a number on her cellular phone. She later came back saying that the person in charge said that contact had to be made with Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee. After being told that Rohee had said that there was a board and it was those persons this newspaper was trying to make contact with, the woman went back into the building and when she returned she said that the person would be down shortly.
That person never came and the woman later left the compound. Efforts by this newspaper to get a response after knocking at a locked door at the top of the outside staircase were to no avail. The reporters then left the compound in the vehicle the same way they entered.
On November 21, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon wrote to Persaud alleging “Invasion of privacy by alleged Stabroek News reporters” at the centre and advising that the Office of the President had instructed that an investigation be launched to “establish the identity of these two intruders”. He also advised that the police had been provided with all the available details. Persaud replied on the same day rejecting Dr Luncheon’s contentions.
Dr Luncheon’s letter said:
“RE: INVASION OF PRIVACY BY ALLEGED STABROEK NEWS REPORTERS
1. I write to inform you of the occurrence of an invasion of privacy by two (2) alleged Stabroek News reporters.
2. The act in question occurred on Thursday 15th November, 2012 in the compound of Castellani House and more specifically on the premise of the National Intelligence Centre.
It involves an invasion of the office by two (2) females, alleged Stabroek News reporters, between the period 11:35 hours to 12:05 hours.
3. It was noted also the two (2) females arrived and left in motor car PKK751, driven by a male driver.
4. The two (2) females identified themselves as reporters from Stabroek News and further claimed that they were sent by the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs, Minister Clement Rohee. The latter disclosure was subsequently verified to be untrue.
5. These two (2) females attempted to enter the premises at three (3) locations, gaining access repeatedly only at the front lobby of the building.
6. The young ladies attempted unsuccessfully to gain further access to the building and were observed to be in constant cellular phone contact with others during their futile efforts.
7. Please be advised that the Office of the President has instructed that an investigation be launched particularly to establish the identity of these two (2) intruders.
8. The Guyana Police Force has been provided with all available details of this invasion and will be expected to engage Stabroek News about clarification of your firm’s awareness and involvement in this event”.
Persaud’s response to Luncheon said:
“Two Stabroek News reporters visited the National Intelligence Centre (NIC) in the compound of Castellani House on November 15th upon my instruction for the purpose of determining the composition of the board of the NIC.
The vehicle with the two reporters drove through the open main gate and stopped at the guard hut whereupon the guard was told that the reporters wished to visit the NIC. No objection was raised by the guard.
The reporters proceeded to the building and knocked on several doors without answer. On finding a door with a knob that turned, the reporters proceeded inside with the expectation of speaking to someone in charge. A woman was noticed by the reporters proceeding down a stairway on the outside and so the reporters returned to the lobby to await her arrival. She was met outside of the lobby and one of the reporters identified herself to the woman as being employed with Stabroek News and explained the purpose of the visit. The woman then proceeded through a door apparently to speak to someone on a phone. The woman returned a few minutes after and said that the reporter needed to set up an appointment with the Minister of Home Affairs. The reporter related to the woman that the newspaper had previously spoken to the minister who had said that there was a board in charge of the NIC and that it should be contacted for information. The woman proceeded again through a door and returned saying that the person in charge would be there shortly to speak to the reporter. Around 10 minutes elapsed without anyone turning up. The reporters then retraced their steps trying all the while to see if there was anyone else evident. There was no sign of anyone and the reporters then left the same way they entered the compound.
The reporter who spoke to the woman says at no time did she say she was sent to the NIC by the Minister. As far as I am concerned, the reporters comported themselves professionally. They breached no prohibited area neither did they disobey any advice from security in the compound.”
Yesterday, the Guyana Press Association condemned the police tactics.
In a statement, the GPA said “The Guyana Press Association stands in solidarity with the Stabroek News journalists who probed the activities of the ultra-secretive Central Intelligence Unit located in the Public Access Space of the Castellani Compound and National Art Gallery.
“The GPA is appalled at the police questioning of the media house Stabroek and the impounding of a vehicle used to ferry the reporters. The reporters were doing what reporters do on a daily basis worldwide in properly functioning democracies, being the watchdogs of the society.
“It is unfortunate that those who seek to watch the watchdogs and others are seeking to intimidate and troll the reporters by using the unorthodox method of questioning how journalists do their job. As has happened in the past, during a different administration, there was an effort made to intimidate journalists who were pursuing an important story about thallium poisoning. The bark was worse than the bite then as it is now.
“The Guyana Press Association shall not allow any member of the media to be intimidated in the process of gathering information in the public interest.”