Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall is calling the purported blacklisting at the international ports of exit of some 200 persons, who are being investigated by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) here, unconstitutional.
Nandlall, in a press statement issued yesterday, said that in light of SOCU not yet charging 20 persons, more than 90% of those allegedly blacklisted have not been charged with a crime. “
“Under our criminal justice system and the Constitution, suspicion, at its highest, cannot and does not lawfully equal guilt. This is so because Article 144 of the Constitution ensconces the presumption of innocence as a fundamental right, as well. In consequence, the fact that a person maybe the subject of ongoing criminal investigations or, may even be the prime suspect in a criminal investigation, without more, cannot form the basis upon which he can be lawfully prevented from leaving the country,” Nandlall said.
“Any attempt to do so would constitute an abridgement of his or her constitutional right to leave Guyana,” he said, referring to Article 148 of the Constitution, which guarantees to the individual, the freedom to leave and enter Guyana, as a fundamental right.
“It then begs the question, on what basis are approximately 180 citizens of this country being denied their constitutional right to travel? The explanation for this mass abrogation of fundamental rights and freedoms lies in politics,” he added.
According to the former AG, the situation is further aggravated by the fact that the persons who are ‘blacklisted’ have not been so informed; they will only realize that they are prohibited from travelling, when they are so informed by the Immigration Officers at the international ports of exit.
“Not only are they being denied their constitutional rights but they will also be made to suffer the public humiliation, pecuniary loss and tremendous inconvenience that will ensue when they turn up at the Airport, prepared to leave Guyana…Even their parliamentary representative is denied this information. If this is not authoritarianism, the transitioning into a Police State and the most callous abuse of power, then I do not know what is,” he argued.
Nandlall added that as Attorney General, he was very firm in his advice to the police regarding preventing persons from leaving the jurisdiction. “He noted that he did a legal opinion for the Police Force outlining the circumstances when a person can, lawfully, be prevented from leaving the country. “I was forced to do so because a High Court Judge awarded damages against the State when Immigration Officers at Cheddi Jagan International Airport prevented an entire family from leaving Guyana for North America because their names were placed on a list, prohibiting persons from leaving the country, on the basis, that the head of the household was suspected of being involve in some form of criminality,” he said, while noting that they sued the state for violations of their constitutional rights to leave Guyana. “There was, simply, no legal defence. On the other hand, I have no doubt that this current mass ‘blacklisting’ is either done upon the advice of the Attorney General or with his imprimatur. At a minimum, he cannot claim to be unaware of it,” he added.
Nandlall said though the purported existence of a blacklist was made public in sections of the media just over two weeks ago, he is yet to see some form of disputation emanating from the Guyana Police Force.
“My colleague Member of Parliament, Bishop Juan Edghill, wrote to the Commissioner of Police on the 9th May 2017, requesting the names of the persons so ‘blacklisted.’ By letter dated 22nd May 2017, the Commissioner of Police responded. Significantly, he did not deny the assertion that 200 Guyanese have been ‘blacklisted’ by the Guyana Police Force. Instead, he informed the Bishop that he was advised by the Police Legal Advisor to direct the request to the Commissioner of Information. In these circumstances, one can safely conclude that the information is accurate,” he added.
To date, neither the Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan nor Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, who is also the Chief Immigration Officer, has addressed the matter.
“The Police Commissioner in his letter to the Bishop professes to be acting upon the advice of the Police Legal Advisor. I know that the holder of that office knows better. That is what makes this fiasco even more eerie,” Nandlall contended.
The former AG concluded by publically offering his services free of charge to any person who is unconstitutionally prevented from leaving the country in these circumstances.