Activist Mark Benschop and journalist Freddie Kissoon were granted $1 bail yesterday after they were arraigned on obstruction charges at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
Magistrate Chandra Sohan released Benschop and Kissoon on bail after they both pleaded not guilty to charges of pedestrian causing obstruction and obstructing municipal workers from performing their duties.
The charges against the two men stemmed from a protest outside the Cemetery Road, East La Penitence entrance to the Mandela Landfill. Benschop and Kissoon have been demanding better conditions for hundreds of residents in the area affected by the landfill, which has been storing mountains of garbage that has overflowed into the cemetery.
It was alleged that on December 21, at Cemetery Road, Georgetown, the two willfully remained on the said road, thereby obstructing persons driving vehicles along that road. Further, it is alleged that on the same date and at the same place, Benschop and Kissoon obstructed municipal workers from performing their duties at the dumpsite.
Attorney Nigel Hughes, in association with Khemraj Ramjattan, Gino Persaud and Christopher Ram, represented the two accused. Hughes noted that the offences with which his clients have been charged do not have custodial penalties.
Despite this, he said, Benschop and Kissoon were still held in police custody at the Brickdam lock-ups and refused station bail since the date of the alleged incidents.
Hughes, in a bail application for Kissoon, told the court that his client had no previous convictions and was not a flight risk. He and his team, he further stated, aimed to expose the malice of the prosecution.
The attorney said that his clients had already been punished for the alleged offences since they were incarcerated for several days despite the fact that the offences carry non-custodial penalties. His clients, he stressed, were trying to highlight a matter of grave concern to the public, being the “transgressions” of the dumpsite.
Benschop, the attorney explained to the court, was already on self bail for another matter of a similar nature. Benschop, Hughes added, attends court faithfully.
In response, police prosecutor Phillip Sheriff insisted that the two accused, and especially Kissoon, be placed on “cash bail,” to ensure that they would return to court on the adjourned date for the continuation of the matter. Magistrate Sohan subsequently granted each accused bail in the sum of $1.
The matter has been adjourned to February 9, 2011.
Benschop and Kissoon had proceeded on a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest over their Tuesday afternoon detention.
The two were arrested at the Le Repentir entrance to the overflowing Mandela landfill, after Benschop blocked the entrance. He was sitting on an old computer and had chained and padlocked the gate. Benschop had blocked the entrance previously to protest the condition of the site and how it was affecting residents living nearby.
On Wednesday, Hughes had filed habeas corpus proceedings on the men’s behalf. In affidavits in support of the applications, he said that when he visited the Brickdam Police Station on Tuesday night, his clients informed that the police refused to grant them bail or say whether they would be charged with any offence.
The lawyer said that he subsequently spoke to the officer-in-charge but the rank could provide no information as it pertained to the detention and arrest of his clients.
Hughes also said that the police had not indicated that they intended to charge the men and have refused to release them on station bail for a summary offence.
“The offence of obstruction of a roadway is a summary offence punishable by a fine of $7500,” he noted.
Hughes said that he advised both of his clients and verily believes that their arrest and continued detention are “political in origin and intent.”
He added that both of his clients, who are not flight risks, have told him that they are being detained for political reasons and he noted that it is an abuse of power to arrest and detain a citizen for a summary offence.
In the case of Kissoon, Hughes expressed belief that the police intended to keep his client “in custody for purposes of teaching him a lesson and for no lawful purpose.”