Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has provided a written statement to the police in response to claims that he made offensive statements at Babu Jaan, Port Mourant in March and party officials have since said that government officials’ utterances have been worse.
Two senior policemen yesterday visited Jagdeo at his Church Street office and following a brief meeting collected the statement and left.
One of the ranks said that they were there to solicit a comment about the “jackasses” and “chase them out” comments that were made on March 10. Jagdeo was informed that he had the option of responding in writing.
“I’m tempted to give you an explanation because I do believe there is strong justification for everything that I said but I would prefer to just give you a written statement,” Jagdeo was heard telling one of the ranks in a video posted on the party’s facebook page.
Moments after the ranks departed, PPP Executive member, Anil Nandlall, who was one of several attorneys who were present during the exchange, explained to the media that he recently made contact with the Crime Chief after he received word that the police wanted to speak to Jagdeo. “The Crime Chief yesterday (Sunday) confirmed that the police wished to interview Jagdeo and we fixed a time and a venue mutually convenient.” That time was 11am and the place was Jagdeo’s office.
He said that Jagdeo in his written statement outlined his responsibilities to speak publicly on matters of unconstitutionality, bad governance, misuse and abuse of political power by the government and public officers. He reserved his right not to comment further on the matter.
He said that the ranks did not specifically say what crime they are investigating and as such no allegation was put to Jagdeo.
“All they did was to solicit a response from him in relation to statements they alleged he has made,” he added.
Nandlall insisted that what has occurred is “an abuse of power on the part of the police force” and stressed that people should have the freedom to speak and criticize government officials. “It is common ground that at the time when the Leader of the Opposition spoke he was speaking of what will happen beyond March 21st…” he said adding that at the time Jagdeo and every citizen had a duty to publicly condemn the government for not obeying the constitution.
He later informed that the party will now look at the “many” statements made by senior functionaries of the government including the president and “we will lodge reports to the police where we feel that graver statements have been made and we are going to request investigations as well.”
He singled out a minister who he claimed has called for ‘war’ if no house-to-house registration is done.
Nandlall could not say what was likely to happen next as police have given no indication that they wished to meet Jagdeo again.
Meanwhile, attorney Priya Manickchand said that the sad reality is that the police are being exploited and utlised to interfere with the people’s right to free speech, even as she insisted that Jagdeo did not call the president, prime minister or Minister Sydney Allicock “jackasses”.
“We have to allow for a country that if you don’t believe what he says is true then defend that. To bring the police is an authoritarian kind of move that speaks to a country that is oppressive and trying to lock people down in terms of what they say,” she said.
She insisted that people have a right and a duty to speak on issues. “I think it is extremely sad that we have reached a place where you can see something like this,” she said before making reference to comments that were made by Minister Volda Lawrence at a PNCR forum.
Manickchand questioned how calling a person a “jackass” is inciting.
“We do have provisions for holding people accountable. I am saying, is this a matter that he needs to be criminally investigated for? And when you hold that up against what other government people have said and have done, what we are seeing is an unfair treatment by the police where it is biased in favour of the government and against the opposition because we have had worse things said and done,” she stressed.
She mentioned the questioning of members of the former PPP cabinet who were interrogated at SOCU headquarters regarding a cabinet document.
“When you have that kind of unequal, unfair treatment then it appears as though it is a targeting of opposition personalities to shut down that opposition rather that a fair addressing of matters according to law.”
Stabroek News had previously reported that Jagdeo, addressing supporters during the PPP’s commemoration of the birth anniversary of the party’s founder, Dr Cheddi Jagan in March, stated, “Here in Berbice and right across Guyana, when the ministers or (President David) Granger or (Prime Minister Moses) Nagamootoo come here after the 21st of March, you say to them, walk behind them, chase them out.”
Following news reports recounting the statements, the government and opposition have traded accusations.