The arrest of Inshan Ishmael by the police, last Wednesday,
has done what no television show or advertisement could have:
it has made him a national figure who is almost assuming the
status of a martyr.
This is demonstrated by the fact that for two days running,
his calls for a national shutdown and he himself have been
on the front page of all four dailies, and constituted the
big story in all the electronic media.
When I first heard of the shutdown as an addendum
to the news, earlier in the week, I did not take it seriously.
Actually, I hardly even knew the name Inshan Ishmael, and
to my mind when the name registered it was as that of the
environmentalist (Ishmael?) Samad.
Many people to whom I spoke had themselves also not heard
of the goodly gentleman before Wednesday last.
Now, Ishmael can actually lay a claim to longevity in public
life that many a politician and trade union leader would like
to have: he was the subject of apparent intimidation by the
authorities right in front of the public eye.
The actions of the police and those in authority have thus
conspired to lend credibility to Ishmael.
Here was a man who was calling on the country to protest peacefully
against the rise in crime. In the past, many have done so,
including Stephen Cadiz.
Ishmaels suggested mode of protest was the shutdown
of businesses. Again, this was nothing new, and there was
nothing wrong with the idea. The only difference may be that
Ishmael, as I understand it, is supposed to have said that
he would take photos/videos of people who did not shut down,
and those people, if they were later robbed/kidnapped, should
not complain to others or him.
Following all of this, on the day before the beginning of
his two-day protest, approval that had been given him to hold
a public gathering at Aranguez Savannah was suddenly withdrawn
by San Juan-Barataria Regional Corporation.
Then late in the night, Ishmael himself was arrested at his
home by a huge contingent of police officers.
This, surely, was overkill, to say the least. What reduced
the police action to being the subject of ridicule was the
actual charge that ensued.
It was one laid under the Summary Offences Act, Section 105.
That section requires a person who prints or publishes any
book, circular, pamphlet, etc to include in it in some conspicuous
place the name and address of the printer and publisher.
The allegation, clearly, is flyers (pamphlet) advertising
the meeting did not include this information, and that Ishmael
must have caused these pamphlets to be circulated.
As trivial offences go, this, surely, must be one of the most
trivial. It falls under the rubric Publications
in the act, which offences are rarely enforced and certainly
do not equate to national threats.
I wonder how many people have offended against this very Section
105 in the very recent past. I know that I receive numerous
flyers from identifiable groups, in which the names of printers/publishers
have not been included.
So why did the police, who have little or no manpower to deal
with many recurrent traffic offences on a daily basis, to
patrol regularly in the Tunapuna/St Augustine constituencies,
find themselves with time and resources on their hands to
be chasing down a breach of the flyer law?
It seems that the police, initially, suspected that Ishmael
might have committed a breach of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Several newspapers reported that this is what he was told
as the reason for his arrest.
Now, it is true that the law allows the police to arrest without
warrant a person whom he suspects with reasonable cause has
committed an arrestable offence.
An arrestable offence is one where the penalty
is five years imprisonment or more. It is true that
the penalties under the Anti-Terrorism Act are invariably
over five years.
But the question is what was the reasonable cause that the
Was there anything to show that he was knowingly promoting
a terrorist act likely to cause the loss of life or serious
Was there anything in the background of Ishmael to indicate
that he was that kind of person? Did he have followers who
were, by reason of their history, likely to read other meanings
in his words?
I have heard nothing to suggest so. And if the police did,
indeed, pick up Ishmael on such suspicion, where did the warrant
I am told that he was said to be arrested on a warrant. A
warrant means that a criminal charge must have first been
laid. The only known charge against him was the pamphlet charge.
So was a warrant of arrest obtained on the basis of such a
Not only is the whole thing very confusing, but also it leaves
the police with egg on their face, to say the least.
The bottom line is that if Ishmael was arrested on the pamphlet
charge, he could not legally have been arrested without a
warrant, as it is a summary offence (committed out of sight
of the police).
If a warrant was obtained for this minor offence, it ought
not to have been granted in the absence of just cause: he
was likely to flee or was avoiding the police.
On the other hand, if he was arrested on suspicion, based
on reasonable cause, of an offence under the Anti-Terrorism
Act, if the suspicions did not prove justified, the police
ought not to have then proceeded to the trivial pamphlet charge.
It smacks too much of CYA-ing which, in the public glare in
which the events unfolded, will hold little water.
One wonders why the police felt it necessary to bring, literally,
the might of the State to take care of one solitary man who
seemed to have exercised his right to protest within the law.
What prompted them?