Sunday 28th January , 2007

 
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Wrong message sent

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.

Ishmael’s 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of his two-day protest, approval that had been given him to hold a public gathering at Aranguez Savannah was suddenly withdrawn by San Juan-Barataria Regional Corporation.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.

National threat?

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 police had.

Trivial charge

Was there anything to show that he was knowingly promoting a terrorist act likely to cause the loss of life or serious bodily harm?

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 come from?

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 charge?

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?

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