Charges were yesterday read against 19 persons arrested after last Friday’s protest by Essequibo rice farmers along the Land of Plenty Public Road, including farmer and AFC regional councillor Naith Ram, who is accused of assaulting a policeman.
Magistrate Sunil Scarce, at the Anna Regina Magistrate’s Court, read the indictable charge of riotous assembly to 17 men who participated in the protest, while their supporters stood on the road shoulder outside the compound. The court is located in the compound of the Anna Regina Police Station and police took no chances and officers were placed by the gate to maintain order during yesterday’s proceedings.
The protest had seen farmers burn tyres and block the road before police eventually managed to disperse them with tear gas. Farmers, including Ram, who heads the Essequibo Paddy Farmers’ Association, have alleged that they were brutalised by the lawmen, while the police force has denied the allegations.
The charge against the 17 men states that on July 4, at Land of Plenty, they riotously assembled together and continued together after being lawfully required or commanded to disperse.
Ram, 53, of Bush Lot, who is also an AFC Region 2 Councillor, was charged along with Tage Persaud Shewcharran, 55, of Devonshire Castle, Dhanniram Naipaul, 53, of Reliance, Chetlall, 57, of Reliance, Bridge Lall,51 of Reliance, Nayeem Mohammed, 35 of Reliance, Ganesh Mootilall, 29 of Reliance, Bhim Singh, 67 of Reliance, Azrudeen Kamrudeen, 21 of Reliance, Seif Ally, 21, of Land of Plenty, Naresh Ramnauth, 21 of Three Friends, Persuad Ramnauth, 43, of Annandale, Ravindra Ramotar, 18 of Reliance, Poashon Gaylall, 36, of Land of Plenty, Dennis Raymond, 59, of Land of Plenty, Vishnu Raymond, 34, of Land of Plenty and Soolall Raymond, 47 of Land of Plenty.
Defence attorney Hemraj Rajkumar told the court that the men were each placed on $5,000 station bail on Saturday and in his application for bail he said that his clients were not flight risks and would attend court for trial.
As a result, the magistrate set bail at $5,000 and the men were ordered to report to the Sergeant-in-Charge of the Anna Regina Police Station every Saturday at 9am and they were all bonded to keep the peace until the hearing and completion of the matter, which is due for continuance on August 5.
Meanwhile, Ram and Shewcharran were also charged with assaulting a peace officer, for holding a meeting in a public place in respect to which no notice was given to an appropriate officer of the police, and speaking at a public meeting at which a noisy instrument was used.
They both pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted $20,000 bail each on the assault charge, $5,000 for the use of a noisy instrument charge and self-bail for the illegal meeting charge.
Rice miller Wazeemul Hack, 47 of La Resource was also charged for using threatening language and assaulting Bridge Lall, who was himself charged with damaging a car visor belonging to Hack’s wife, Shomeza Hack.
They both pleaded not guilty and Lall was granted $15,000 bail, while Hack was placed on $20,000 bail. They too were ordered to return to court on August 5.
Police in a release yesterday said that additional charges are likely.
Ram had accused the police of stripping him and brutalising him and others during the protest, leading the AFC to condemn the response of the force. Police subsequently denied the charges and accused him of stripping himself, while the Home Affairs Ministry has accused the AFC of instigating the protest.
Farmers have been protesting continuously over payments from millers as well as for concerns over bad drainage to be addressed. However, they have said that authorities have paid them little regard, leading them to seek the intervention of Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy and President Donald Ramotar.