October 14, 2019

Peter Binose: Stamping out political protest or demonstration in SVG

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0,,18541987_303,00By Peter Binose

According to Ralph Gonsalves all singing all dancing [the Comrade Skank] the leader of the Unity Labor Party, an unacceptable political protest is any party other than his marching, sitting or standing outside a building, standing or marching on a footpath or on a public road within 200 yards of Parliament or the Financial Centre [or at all].

So what in law is a public gathering or political protest or demonstration? In law it can be any one of a number of actions. There are many types of demonstrations, including a variety of elements. These may include:
A demonstration or street protest an action by a mass group or collection of groups of people in favor of a political or other cause; it normally consists of walking in a mass march formation and either beginning with or meeting at a designated endpoint, or is a rally, to hear speakers. Even when the rally in support of Ralph Gonsalves when he was being accused of rape [which some called a rape rally] that was hypocritically held within the 200 yards of the Financial Centre and was a protest, demonstration and rally and was organized as such.
Marches, in which a parade demonstrate while moving with or without placards along a set route.
Rallies [political or private], in which people gather to listen to speakers or musicians.
Picketing, in which people surround an area [normally a place of employment].
Sit-ins, in which demonstrators or groups of people occupy an area, sometimes for a stated period but sometimes indefinitely, until they feel their issue has been addressed, or they are otherwise convinced or forced to leave.

How do such actions equate with the and the Grenadines Constitution? How do such actions equate with the United Nations Charter for Human Rights? How do such actions equate with the European Convention on Human Rights [1950], especially Articles 9 to 11; and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, especially Articles 18 to 22? Or even The First Amendment of the United States Constitution which specifically allows peaceful demonstrations and the freedom of assembly as part of a measure to facilitate the redress of such grievances? “Amendment I: Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

All of those organizations support unhindered peaceful demonstrations because that is the whole basis of democracy.

Constitution: The constitution specifically excludes any laws being applied that are not in line with the constitution. For instance if the Constitution says you can hold demonstrations as a right, no law made before or after the adoption of the constitution can take away that right [under the rules of the constitution certain regulatory laws can be made which must be reasonable].

The Saint Vincent Constitution Order 1979
Made:
26th July 1979
Coming into Operation:
27th October 1979.
PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
Fundamental rights and freedoms
1. Where every person in Saint Vincent is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely-
a. life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;
b. freedom of conscience, of expressions and of assembly and association: and
c. protection for the privacy of his home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation, the provisions of this Chapter shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to those rights and freedoms subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the said rights and freedoms by any person does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of other or the public interest.
Protection of freedom of assembly and association
11. (1) Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the protection of his interests.
(2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision-
a. that is reasonably required in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health;
b. that is reasonably required for the purpose of protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons; or
c. that imposes restrictions upon public officers that are reasonably required for the proper performance of their functions, and except so far as that provisions or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

Demanding that Vincentians that want to meet protest or assemble stay 200 yards away from the government centre at the financial offices in Bay Street, or 200 yards from Parliament which is housed in the Old Courthouse is unreasonable and unconstitutional. That and also taking away their placards and destroying them is unconstitutional. These are all unreasonable acts and behaviors by the police and therefore unconstitutional. Beating peaceful protesters with batons and dragging them away and making false charges against them whilst being illegal are both unconstitutional and against the UN Human Rights Conventions to which SVG is a signatory.

Peaceful protest is not extreme or unlawful; it is a vital part of a democratic society and has a respected tradition in this country. Many of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today were gained because people were prepared to go out on the streets of Britain and in the colonies as Saint Vincent was, and protest – ranging from women’s right to vote, and workers’ rights to be part of a trade union and for many more reasons.

Peaceful protest can be an effective campaigning tool. A well-organized peaceful protest is a powerful way of raising the profile of people’s campaigns, and because it is so visible it can be great for building networks and alliances by bringing a campaign to the attention of others who may share your views and concerns.

In recent years, the Unity Labor Party Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has repealed some of the police acts [PACE] which were deemed as good acts elsewhere. They have introduced new criminal laws to deal with a whole range of threats. While there are real problems and the Government is entitled to legislate to protect the public and to give the police the appropriate tools to do their jobs, these new laws do also give sweeping powers to the police that are not always used in the way Parliament intended or in a way the public expected of them. In fact often police and politicians apply laws which are unconstitutional and even against Human Rights conventions. The upshot is that the space for public protest has been restricted, and there is a feeling that public protest is somehow a suspect or extreme activity.

You have the right to protest, but the police have many excuses to make protest difficult and make it easier for the government to try to prevent you from protesting.

There are golden rules to bear in mind in this campaign of protest that involves peaceful protest: If you bring people with you to the protest make sure you are agreed on what you and they are there for and that everyone attending feels that they are part of the protest and understands the basic rules.

Do not behave antagonistically in dealing with the police, government ministers or employees or members of the public, stay calm and seek to reason. If told to do something, ask why, politely – even if the other person is not being polite.

In asserting your right to protest remember that you have a right to protest, and you are following a noble tradition with distinguished predecessors which include the current Prime Minister Ralph E Gonsalves.

You have a right to assemble on the public highway if you want to gather together and demonstrate about an issue, you do not need permission from police, from the government or anyone else. Provided you do not completely block off the public highway, and you act peacefully and without any threats of violence, you will generally not be committing any crime.
The police cannot prohibit an assembly, and you do not need to give notice [except to assembly around Parliament or the Financial Centre]. The police can impose conditions, but only if they reasonably believe that the conditions are necessary to prevent “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community”. The conditions imposed may only be as to the place of assembly [and not elsewhere], the maximum duration and the maximum number of people. If the police impose very strict conditions, it may amount in effect to a prohibition and an unlawful interference with your right to protest both under the SVG Constitution and UN Human Rights obligations: for example, if they say the demonstration must be 200 yards away, with a maximum number of three people and only for five minutes. Try to negotiate less strict conditions. If you still feel that the police acted unlawfully, you may be able to sue the police under the international, regional and local Human Rights Acts. By all means contact the United Nation’s, they need to be made aware of what is going on in SVG.

Harassment of a person at or nearby the Voting Registry Offices is an unacceptable course of conduct and may only be classed as harassment if there are two or more incidents against the same person, or a group of people [but not the office or organization itself]. Harassment is not defined but can include conduct that causes alarm or distress. You are far better off ignoring the lady in question and not talking to her, at her, or about her in her presence, certainly not shouting any remarks whatsoever. In doing so ensuring those at the protest all understand and are informed of such rules. Also refrain from writing on walls.

There are three types of situation when protest can become harassment:
Shouting of words or holding up placards can be [but not necessarily] harassment when pointed directly at the person or group of persons continually.
One incident where two or more people are harassed, and the intention is to persuade someone not to do something they are entitled to do or force them to do something they are entitled not to do may [but not necessarily] be harassment.
One incident where someone is harassed in the vicinity of any dwelling or office, with the intention to persuade someone not to do something or to force them to do something may [but not necessarily] be harassment.

Although many types of public protest can fall within the definitions above, you will not be committing any offence if your conduct is reasonable – and because you have a right to peaceful protest, if you are peacefully protesting, there is a strong argument that your conduct is reasonable. I noticed that there is an ordinary police constable on duty at the place of the protest and he is armed with a pistol in a holster carried in clear view on his belt. I believe that is not normal at a peaceful protest in SVG and it is perhaps yet another form of aggression and harassment of the demonstrators by the police.

Provided you do not completely block off the public highway, and you act peacefully and without any threats of violence or harassment, you will generally not be committing any crime.

Closing off large areas by the police with barriers to exclude protesters from them and at the same time closing off those spaces to people who have traditionally used them for such things as car parking, vending, and walking, shopping and general public use cannot be an acceptable situation. If those areas are closed off by the police it forces protesters into the street at which time the police then, as they have recently, proceeded to attack those people accusing them of obstruction and threaten violence against them with batons and arrest.

One thing that is happening in Saint Vincent is that if you belong to the Unity Labor Party the party of the ruling government you can do whatever you want, protest wherever you want and gather wherever you want. Actually aided and supported by the police. If you are known to belong to the minority or opposition party the New Democratic Party they have a whole set of unreasonable rules used against them and applied brutally by the police. It would appear that the police are pro ULP to the extreme and have become a politically motivated police force with a particular political affiliation to the ULP and the prime minister.

I would urge every protester to record both sound and video with their cell phones and cameras whenever they are approached by the police. But beware of police snatching such recording devices as they have been known to do when they are recorded in a bad light or doing bad things, just be careful. It is better that someone else records those that are being spoken to or being dragged around or assaulted by the police in the course of their duty or otherwise, just stand nearby but within range. Do not interfere with a police arrest that is an offence.
If the minister comes by again and once more gives the middle finger sign to you, take a photo that may well incitement.
If a policeman makes an out of order or nasty uncalled for comment or remark to you or the group record him that may well be incitement.

Remember this is not about Ralph Gonsalves picking his nose in public or any of the other things we may object to, it’s about a group of citizens believing that the December 9 General Election was stolen from them.

There are other types of demonstrations that I have not mentioned here which are spasmodic gatherings of people which do happen anywhere at any time having a decentralized [rather than hierarchical] structure, sometimes called an “organized coincidence”, with no leadership or membership.
Whereby demonstrations or meetings are decided spontaneously by those people at a certain place at a certain time without knowing such was going to happen. The disorganized nature of the event allows it to largely escape clampdown by authorities who may wrongly view such demonstrations or meetings as forms of parades or organized protest. The only requirement is a sufficient turn-out to create a “critical mass” of demonstrators dense enough to occupy a piece of road to the exclusion of drivers of motorized vehicles. Such events would not be made up of people all wearing the same color T shirts, just ordinary people coming spontaneously together and protesting.
Such things happen but to be spontaneous no prearrangement must be made or advertized.

One of the frightening things about this is that the ULP supporters were originally told to own the jobs and NDP people were fired and replaced with ULP supporters. Now they are encouraged to own the police, own the judiciary and own the law in SVG, to the exclusion of anyone who is not a proven ULP supporter. In doing so they have protection from prosecution or are able to get reduced charges and sentences. Whilst anyone NDP gets the full blast of the law, the bias is incalculable. This is not just talk there is clear and calculable evidence of such behavior. Police officers who almost beat a youth to death getting much lesser charges than deserved and after conviction getting their jobs reinstated. The Court Registrar who stole in excess of $300,000 and was only charged with $23000 and given a small fine and sent home to St Lucia. The son of Speaker of the House spectacle in purchasing goods and selling them to the same ministry he worked for at an enormous secret profit, nothing simply nothing. Theft by fraud at the Argyle airport, nothing simply nothing. It goes on and on, one law for them and one for everyone else. If you want immunity or semi immunity from prosecution become a member of the Unity Labor Party and make sure you wear red at every possible opportunity. If you do that you never know you may just meet the chief of police wearing his clown like red suit and hat at a ULP rally, he saw the benefits and grabbed them with both hands.

As usual you can be sure I will be bringing this whole situation to the attention of the US, UN, EU, UK and all relevant authorities. Some of your recordings of police activity can also be sent to me confidentially for this purpose if you would send them electronically via the editor of this media for my attention.

DISCLAIMER: The opinion, belief and viewpoint expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion, belief and viewpoint of iNews Cayman/ieyenews.com or official policies of iNews Cayman/ieyenews.com.

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IMAGE: www.dw.com

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