Hire car and minibus drivers, cane-cutters and housewives yesterday turned out in their numbers at Tain, Corentyne to continue their protest against increased fines and fares and this time they also protested against the police’s use of “excessive” force.
Bearing placards with slogans such as “sugar workers need justice,” “police brutality against civilians” and “$150 fines must stay”, the protesters said 11 male protestors were beaten and taken to the Whim Police Station. One of the men, union representative Hernie Park had to seek medical attention after he refused to disembark from one of the trucks used to block the road. Park told police “this is me employer truck and I won’t come out” and they “threw tear gas in the lorry and jump in and butt me head on the lorry.”
After two hours of crying out in pain in the Whim lock-ups, Park said he was taken to a private doctor. Yesterday morning, he said Regional Chairman, Zulfikar Mustapha, provided a vehicle for him to be treated at the New Amsterdam Hospital. He said x-rays proved that he suffered swelling to the areas. The protest over the fines began on Monday.
When the men appeared at the Number 51 court Magistrate Krishendat Persaud granted them “self bail”. The men: Jaikumar Persaud, Khaliel Khan, Raymond Kadir, Muniram Seenarine, Deonarine Edwards, Fazil Mohamed, Hernie Park, Vicky Brijbasi, Dindyal Isaacs, Garfield Park and Kumar Deonarine were charged with various offences including disorderly behaviour, throwing missiles and unlawfully assembling for disorderly purposes.
Attorney-at-law Khemraj Ramjattan represented them arguing that they were protesting peacefully against the increase in fines and should be released on their own recognizance. Police Prosecutor, Sergeant Michael Grant, asked for bail to be refused but the magistrate upheld Ramjattan’s submissions. The men were ordered to appear at the Whim Court on November 12 for police report.
After the hearing, Ramjattan spoke to the protesters for a while and was able to placate them and they dispersed peacefully at around 1 pm.
Dr Veerasammy Ramaya, who said he represented the Berbice Hire Car Association, told this newspaper that people are still suffering problems with their eyes due to the tear gas police used and some have had to seek medical attention. As regard the fines, Ramaya said drivers were charged for traffic offences such as defective “traffic lights and they have fitness. The police stopping the drivers during the day and charge them for defective lights. Then they charge them for overload.” Further he said, “The drivers are not compelled to carry the schoolchildren when they can carry adults. Why the people’s rights were violated in a peaceful protest?”
Some persons commented that Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee held a meeting at a shop at around 5 pm but they are not satisfied with the way it was handled. “When the drivers tell him that bulbs can blow while driving, the minister said ‘that it makes no sense’. He was trying to defend the police,” one person said.
On Tuesday the protesters had blocked the road, from 5.30 am, with three trucks and the police had resorted to using the tear gas at about 11 am to allow traffic to flow after warning the protesters to disperse and “go home.” The demonstrators did not heed the warning insisting that they would not move “until the president come.” Some had even shouted, “We protesting fuh we rights and y’all come fuh kill we; shoot if you want but we nah gon move.”
But when the police fired the tear-gas they scattered in all directions; some dropping their bicycles in the process and others scaling the fence of the Nand Persaud International Communication compound. Others ran through the streets and continued to shout at the police for shooting tear gas at them. In response ranks fired another round at them. However, even in the midst of the chaos women shouted at the police, informing them that a school, Tain Primary, was nearby.
Residents said the tear gas also affected persons who were in their homes and schoolchildren. They also criticized the police for using force against those who were arrested. However, Deputy Commander of ‘B’ Division, Balram Persaud told this newspaper that the force was not excessive but “it was the minimum. We tried pushing them back but they would not go.”
President of the Upper Corentyne Central Hire Car Association, Kalamazad Ibrahim told Stabroek News that a large gathering came out on the road from around 6 am to start protesting. He said Persaud used a loud hailer and asked them to disperse or he would open fire with tear gas. The man said, “We did not block the road or we were not on the public road. When he [Persaud] saw Ramjattan’s vehicle he stopped shouting.” Ibrahim said they told Ramjattan that the men would be attending court and they “begged” him to represent them.
He reiterated that the main reason for the protest was against the steep increase in fines for simple offences and that the authorities had fixed the new fines “behind our backs.” Persaud confirmed that the men did not block the road and said he gave the warning after persons stopped some vehicles to collect money.