Capitol News cameraman Rudy Morris, who was detained by members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) in the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) last Sunday returned to Georgetown last evening.
Morris, along with Chenapau resident Anthony Melville were on Sunday afternoon detained at Muri Muri where they had travelled to get video footage of the Kaieteur National Park signboard – which is acknowledged by residents as the boundary of the Park.
Stabroek News understands that it was when they were returning to their boat that they were intercepted by armed soldiers. While the boat captain was allowed to leave, Morris and Melville were detained.
Speaking with Stabroek News last evening via telephone, the cameraman said he was a part of a media team which had gone to KNP last weekend to investigate claims made by the Chenapau people that there is no clear cut park boundary that shows up to where the KNP extends to.
“I didn’t use the trail because its a long walk, so some Amerindian guys took me up river in a boat to the area where the Amerindians are claiming the sign board which they recognise as the park boundary is; I took my shots and whatever, and on my way coming out back we pass an army base close to the sign board, but when we passed the first time, nobody was there, but when we coming out back two guys, I think was a lance corporal and a sergeant come pointing guns at we, “ Morris said.
“They started calling me I tell the boat man don’t stop because I already got my footage and whatever, if is anything let them shoot me, but like the Amerindians were scared cause they see the guns and he pulled in back to them. And although I identify myself as a media personnel to the sergeant, he turn and tell me that anybody could print that and start telling me how I is a fake,” the cameraman added.
It was from that point Morris said that he and Melville were detained until 6 am the next day; during their detainment, the cameraman said he informed the GDF men that they would have to provide them with food and shelter for the night to which they agreed.
However, the camera man said after being told that there was only one available hammock and that one of them would have to sleep on the ground, he made it clear to the GDF officers that he would be walking out of the camp with or without them.
“I was supposed to catch the plane to come back to town the Sunday afternoon, and I explain to he that if I miss that plane, I have no other way to get back to town and he said he ain’t got no time with that…how that is not his problem, I detaining you here…I turn and tell he when the morning come and is 6 o clock and I could see I walking the trail. Y’all could shoot me if y’all want, but I walking out of here,” Morris shared.
When morning came, he said he went to the toilet and upon his return he requested his camera and phone so he could leave. However, Morris said the request for his equipment was denied as the Sergeant told him the items would be flown back to the arrival centre on a plane.
“We decided to walk out and it took us three hours before we meet the colonel who asked us how we reach out here and I tell he that the sergeant tell we we could go and is only now I make it back to Georgetown,” the cameraman shared.
He further contended that he could have returned to the city long before last evening had the GDF tried to stall him by delaying the return of his equipment.
“I sat down at the airport all the time waiting for them to bring back my stuff,” Morris added.
When asked if he believes he was wrongfully detained by the GDF, the cameraman said, “they claiming is a restricted area and we know that normally when the police got a restricted area they does normally put a yellow line, and we as reporters know we can’t cross that yellow line but they ain’t had nothing from stopping me you know. They ain’t even had no army man at the entrance where they don’t want anybody to go.”
“If I had seen a sign or something that said army restricted area or something that boundary off that part I wouldn’t have passed but they ain’t have anybody…I don’t think I did anything wrong as a media personnel,” Morris added.
Meanwhile, Protected Areas Commission (PAC) Board Member Raquel Thomas-Caesar, in a Facebook comment, said that the PAC was unaware of the media presence in the KNP, since the entity had not been informed they would be in the park to investigate.
Nonetheless, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) in a press statement issued on Monday said they were informed that Morris and a group of other journalists had received the permission of the National Parks Commission, after paying the required user fees.
They had also been assured by the GDF that Morris would have been brought to Georgetown yesterday afternoon.
“The reporters were there to cover unfolding events related to a presidential order for the Army, in joint operations with the Police, to enforce the law which prohibits mining within the boundaries of the Kaieteur National Park. On Sunday, Mr Morris, accompanied by Amerindian leader Anthony Melville, a former Toshao, and Chief of Chiefs of the Patamonas, visited the area of Muri Muri, by way of boat, to take videos there, where they were detained. On Monday morning, they were both allowed to leave and return to Kaieteur top. Army officials have assured the GPA that while arrangements are being made to have Mr. Morris return to Georgetown, his subsistence and accommodation are guaranteed,” the GPA statement read.
They also thanked the GDF for their cooperation in having the matter resolved amicably.
The GPA noted that it would never condone its members violating specific security measures in any area of Guyana when good, sufficient and legal reasons exist for such orders. However, similarly, it stated that it would not stand “idly by and have our freedoms violated.”