Convicted sitter released

-GHRA urges independent probe of sentencing

Fatima Martin

Fatima Martin was yesterday released from prison after being sentenced to five years for assaulting a one-year-old baby under her care.

As Martin now awaits the outcome of the appeal of the sentence, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding her sentencing.

The 19-year-old babysitter was released sometime after 6 pm and carried away by her family. Speaking to Stabroek News, Martin’s aunt Gloria Johnson said that they were happy that she was released and able to defend herself now.

Fatima Martin
Fatima Martin

Martin was sentenced last week Friday to five years in prison for inflicting grievous bodily harm to the daughter of Magistrate Geeta Chandan-Edmond and attorney Joel Edmond.

Martin was granted a bail release on Wednesday by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, pending the outcome of an appeal of her sentencing. Martin’s petition for bail was filed by her lawyer Sase Gunraj on Tuesday on the grounds that the decision of Magistrate Sueanna Lovell, who handed down the sentence, was “wrong, erroneous and misconceived in law.”

In the petition, Charmin Martin, the sister of Fatima Martin, said she had been advised by her sister that she was “coerced and deceived into pleading guilty” to the offence for which she was convicted and sentenced.

Martin was arraigned just two days after admitting to punching the child during a diaper change and the sentence was handed down after she pleaded guilty. However, the imposition of the maximum penalty and the swiftness of the proceedings from the woman’s arrest to her jailing have sparked a public outcry over her treatment.

The GHRA added its voice on Wednesday, calling the sentence “cruel and indefensible in light of the facts, age, background and being a first offence,” while expressing concern that the fact that the child’s parents are a magistrate and a lawyer may have influenced the legal process.

“A speedy and impartial investigation into all of the circumstances surrounding this episode is needed in order to determine whether the excessive charges of ‘unlawful and malicious inflicting grievous bodily harm’ should be withdrawn,” it said in a statement.

Martin has also alleged that she was assaulted by Magistrate Chandan-Edmond and threatened by her husband. Joel Edmond on Wednesday denied the allegations outright.

According to the human rights group, the notion of undue influence was supported by a pattern of events, which included the alleged physical assault that Martin has alleged occurred in the presence of various police officers and court officials, influence to plead guilty and the public clearing the court and the severity of the ruling. “The speed of the proceedings—the arrest, detention, charge and imprisonment—within three days ending with the maximum sentence a magistrate is allowed to impose, also raises questions,” the group said.

The statement further said that the actual charge laid against Martin seemed to relate more to laying the ground to hand down a shockingly long sentence rather than to the facts of the matter.

The GHRA said that Martin’s case was the third such case brought to the attention of the organisation in recent months, where young women were “being rushed through the courts, instructed to plead guilty and bundled off to prison in a matter of days.”

It further stated that the practice of the police instructing young women to plead guilty in which they would have no opportunity to give an explanation in court or seek legal advice was “disgraceful.”

“This adds to the sense of a judicial system not grounded on principles of fairness and justice,” it said.

“The GHRA is disposed to believe that the excessive aspects of this case were prompted by an emotional over-reaction to the idea of a baby being assaulted, rather than to pre-meditated vindictiveness on the part of those responsible for this abuse of the judicial process. Nonetheless, this cannot condone effectively destroying the life prospects of a young indigenous woman. The incident suggests a number of lessons to be learnt both by coastal Guyanese as well as indigenous communities in relation to young women seeking jobs on the coast,” the group further said.

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