The Leader of the Opposition could not have been under surveillance by policemen in full regalia, including masks, following his vehicle on motorcycles. He was being openly intimidated in the identical manner that Cheddi Jagan was for several weeks during the Desmond Hoyte administration when two policemen on motorcycles followed him for weeks. Only Jagan’s public confrontation and a public outcry stopped it.
The police have innumerable ways, less public, of intimidating the citizenry. One of those ways is by unjustified arrest. Some months ago, two senior office executives, both in the vicinity of their 50s, with families, permanent places of abode, no police record, in employment at the same place for over 25 years, were on different days, arrested by two police officers outside their place of work, without reason being stated. At the police station each was asked about a transaction at his place of work carried out in the course of business in 2014, eight years ago, of which hundreds are done every year. Of course, neither could recall the specific transaction. Each was arrested and thrown in the lockups.
The time of arrest was significant. Arrest in the latter part of the afternoon or evening means that the arrested person will spend at least overnight in the lockups. Arrest at a similar time on Friday afternoon means that the arrested person is likely to spend the weekend in the lockups.
When the persons returned a few days later to the police station, as required, accompanied by a female staff member, and mother of two young children, whose attendance was requested by the police, armed with documentation of the 2014 transaction that revealed no wrongdoing, all three were again brazenly arrested, allegedly on orders of a senior police officer in the crime division, giving directions from his office in the top floor. Similar unjustified arrests, in the absence of the person making the report, or not accompanying the police making the arrest to the police station, take place multiple times every day in Guyana. Arrest in violation of law is an established method of intimidation.
If these persons, who were employed by a respected institution, can be so treated by the police, no one is safe. The police have dropped the matter without explanation or apology. They have not charged the persons making the report of giving false information to the police, as requested by the arrested persons. Acting with such intimidatory speed, locking up citizens of otherwise good character, in relation to an alleged 2014 offence, involving no violence, leaves unanswered questions for the police. The traumatized persons are not holding their breadths.
The employer was given short shrift by the police. The circumstances of the allegation suggest that the police should have first approached the employer to retrieve the 2014 documents (thank heavens they were available) so as to enable them to ascertain whether a crime had been committed. No one would have had to be arrested. Only the police can say why this was not done.
The Bail Bill can provide measures to address this widespread, but little acknowledged, problem. Strengthening the Bail Bill would supplement provisions in the Police Act which provides some measures, but which by themselves are clearly not enough.
Section 16 of the Police Act gives the police wide powers of arrest. However, where a person makes a complaint to the police, certain conditions, mentioned above, are required to be observed. The section states that “it shall be lawful for any member of the Force to arrest without a warrant…any person whom any other person charges with having committed a felony or misdemeanour; or any person whom any other person suspects of having committed a felony or misdemeanour, or charges with having committed an offence punishable on summary conviction.” There is a proviso. The person making the report “must be willing to accompany the member of the Force effecting the arrest to the police station and to enter into a recognizance to prosecute such charge.”
In relation to the event described above, the person who made the allegation, like most who do, did not accompany the officers effecting the arrest and signed no recognizance in the presence of the arrested persons to prosecute the charge. The arrest was therefore unlawful and the imprisonment by the police was false, unlawful and unconstitutional. The persons are therefore entitled to damages and very large sums are now granted for such wrongdoings. The police must immediately cease the practice of arresting persons on a report where the person making the report does not accompany the police making the arrest to the police station.
The first step in eliminating this long-term violation of human rights, therefore, is for the police to cease these unlawful arrests.
The second step is for section 4 of the Bail Bill to provide additional circumstances under which the police are required to release persons on bail. A subsection should be added to section 4 that provides that where a recognizance is not signed pursuant to section 16(1)(c) of the Police Act at the time of or within one hour of taking a person into custody, the person shall be released on his or her own recognizance.