Restriction on the Right to Assembly2303 09 Aug, 2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: Usually when I get up to make a presentation in the National Assembly I probably would feel a sense of thrill, but when I listened to the contributions of the Hon. Attorney General and his colleague, backbencher Mr. Manzoor Nadir, the Hon. Member, I feel a sense of chill. Really I had wanted to stand up and say that the Alliance For Change endorses the motion. I really had wanted to say that and no more, because the Hon. Member Mr. Desmond Trotman has made the case convincingly that the barricades should be brought down and that people should have the right to their freedoms to assemble, and to picket, and to protest, and to demonstrate within the precinct of Parliament of Guyana and outside of Public Buildings, but what I heard really disturbed me profoundly, deeply.
I recall in the year of my birth reading the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru and I will paraphrase him by saying that when the clock strikes the midnight hour, when the world goes to sleep, India would be awaken to freedom. In this historic session of this unprecedented Parliament, in the wee hour of the morning, I am now getting the feeling that perhaps our people, if this motion is defeated and if those on that side have their way, Guyanese, will wake up to not freedom but a limitation of freedom or a denial of freedom. It bothers me that we are treating our Constitution so lightly that the Hon. Attorney General… [Mr. Nandlall: I read the Constitution.] It is not that you read it; it is whether you understood it, because the Constitution, as our supreme law, cannot give with one hand what it takes away with the other. It cannot give in Article 147 the right to freedom of assemble, to freedom of association and the entire part 1 of the Constitution that elaborates on those rights. These cannot be abridged except by a law that provides for public safety and so on. There is no law that bans protest outside of Public Buildings. No law! No law! To the extent that a law collides with the Constitution and to the extent to which it is inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee that law is void.
When my honourable friend tried to invoke a law – he is honourable and he is the Attorney General of Guyana – and referred to the Police Act, Chapter 16:01 and said that the police have a right to erect barriers, and using it in the context, and using it in a way that one would think that they have a right to erect a barrier outside of the Public Buildings. It has on the side “road barriers”. Let me read the section 27, which he read, and try to give it its context. One has to be very careful when one comes to invoke a law to take away a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution that one does so with care, utmost care, especially if I were the Attorney General.
“Notwithstanding any other Act, any officer, inspector or subordinate officer may if he considers it necessary so to do for the maintenance and preservation of law and order or for the prevention or detection of crime erect or place or cause to be erected or placed barriers in or across any road or street on in any public place within Guyana in such a manner as he may think fit.”
Then it goes onto section 27 (2), which is read in conjunction with section 27 (1):
“Any member of the force may take all reasonable steps to prevent any vehicle being driven pass such barrier and any driver of any vehicle who fails to comply with any reasonable signal of a member of the police force with uniform requiring such person to stop such vehicle before reaching any such barrier should be liable to a conviction…”
This has an application in a specific context of road barriers and not a barrier or barricade erected within the premises of Public Buildings. No vehicle is stopped and searched there. This is for barriers on the road. That is why it states “road barrier”. To try to create the impression that a law forbids people from access of the parliamentary precinct is, to me, a dangerous utterance coming from the mouth of the Attorney General.
What we see here is misleading, to say the most. This law that we are talking about, which abridges the freedom given by the Constitution, would be such law as a National Security Act, under which the police would be authorised to do certain things and we do not have a National Security Act here. We do not have a proclamation of a proclaimed area, under law, that could prohibit demonstration, marches or protests within a particular area as defined by law and authorised under a law. We do not have a state of emergency. What we hear here tonight is an assault, not only on the rights of the people but the integrity of every citizen of this country who, if I stretch the argument, is seen as a potential suicide bomber. Anyone who comes within the precinct of this Parliament of Guyana is considered to be a potential suicide bomber. This paranoia, which I spoke about, exists in the minds of those who must be reminded of the political axiom that fascism begins where freedom ends. The moment you begin to delimit the freedom of the citizen from doing things that the Constitution authorises him or her to do then you will be introducing notions of fascism - Nazism. You are trying to portrait this country as a national security State where people are restricted in what they can do where they even disappear if they do things that the rulers feel threatened by or even the notion of a threat. That is why I said that I feel this sense of chill because I had hardly expected this to come from a Government that was spawned by the People’s Progressive Party; a Government that was spawned by the party of Mr. Cheddi Jagan.
I felt deflated because I remember, long before Members here would remember, in 1965, I was outside of this Public Buildings with Mr. Wilson, they called him “Cocoa Wilson”, “E.M.G Wilson” and he, on one occasion, chained himself on the gates of Public Buildings. On another occasion he threw himself down and we had to put rocks on his stomach. On a third occasion, I was there when he slashed himself on his chest with a razor blade. Initially, we were there protesting for the release of political detainees who were held in City Hall in 1965. Then our next forays were for the National Security Act to be repealed because it had limited our freedom, but, yet, even though there was a National Security Act in 1965 we were out there, we built a tent and we were singing. There was a group called Workers’ Stage. I remember some of those people in 1965 and 1966. George Lee, Stella Datbang, Shirley Edwards and Cyril Belgrave and my late friend M.Z. Ali were some of the Members. I remember some of them; there may be others. This is the genesis of the type of freedom the people of this country fought for, to liberate the precinct of the Parliament of Guyana because it is composed of the representatives of the people and if they have no access in the vicinity of their own representatives, where else can they have access to?
I agree with what has been said that the people want to communicate the way they feel to the Members of the Parliament. I recall that for all the major protests that took place outside of the Public Buildings I was featured in almost all - almost all! It is not about me, but I was one of those who enjoyed the freedom to protest outside of the Public Buildings in the bad days of Burnham, and these who claimed that that period was a period of dictatorship and claimed political righteousness are the ones to ban protest outside of Public Buildings. They erected barriers and that is the contradiction that we have to face tonight and that is why we have to insist that they cannot get away with the shenanigan of coming to this House and saying that a law precludes it.
This idea of talking about Guy Fawkes, blowing up the gunpowder plot… I am surprised that the Hon. Member… I have read so much about these right wing fascist groups in Europe, the ones that said, Sieg Heil , “Hail Hitler”, who tried to bring back the past. I have seen so much, of the people in England, when I was there in 1968, of the Skinheads, beating coloured people because they felt that they were the only ones who had a right to occupy certain spaces such as buses travelling in London. They were beating Pakis, beating anyone who did not look white and who was not a member of the Skinheads. I was there.
We have to defeat this notion that there is a security interest that precludes people from accessing the Parliament Office and if that was not done then someone will come and blow up the Parliament Office; suicide bombers will come here. Mujahideen will come here; there will be a jihad. He cited Abu Bakr attacking the Trinidadian Parliament and it will be that we will have Abu Bakrs in Guyana coming in to do something in the Parliament of Guyana. Surprisingly, he did not mention Charles I with the iron side, in 1641, that went and overthrew a government and beheaded the King. Those things have been mentioned and the imagery invoked by my friend on the other side, the right wing fascistic imagery, is that we have no right to do any protest and demonstration and enjoy our freedom because we are all potential suicide bombers. We are all incendiaries; we are all terrorists and suddenly we will need a Homeland Security Act so that we will do strip-searches for when we have to come in here, and x-rays, and so on. This is paranoia.
I believe that what this motion is asking for is reasonable. It is not asking that any law to be broken. It is asking for the right of the citizens to have access to the Parliament of Guyana, to have access to the precinct of the Parliament of Guyana, to demonstrate, if they wish, peacefully, to picket, if they wish, peacefully, to protest, if they wish, peacefully and if any breech happens the security forces should be held liable because it is their duty to ensure that there is law and order and that the peace is kept.
When the late President Janet Jagan was attacked here, outside of Public Buildings, I was at the Office of the President. I communicated information to very senior people in the Government that there was likely to be an attack. I told them where it was likely to come from and almost the person or persons… That day nobody listened to what I had said. When the event happened then they threw their hands up. There was a security failure. It was not that the President was attacked; it was that there was a failure of security for the President. That is a matter that must be addressed by the security forces. It is not for them to come here and talk about the assassination of a Minister, because today they must give account for who assassinated the Minister. It is not only to make allegations and let the innuendoes fall as if the people who advocate freedom are the ones who have assassinated the Minister. Let them tell us their fills. Let them form an inquiry because they had said then that they knew who had assassinated the Minister.
These things cannot work. This is symptomatic of a very frightened régime. It is afraid of its own people. When it suites them they boss the crowd and bring them outside of Public Buildings. This is the first time in the history I have seen Members of the Government picketing outside of Public Buildings, protesting outside of Public Buildings. I have seen Ministers on the picket line. This is symptomatic of a new time.
I believe that the constitutional right cannot be abridged and this must not be a fortress. This should not be the fortress Parliament of Guyana. This should be, as I said, the free territory of Guyana. This should be a free part of Guyana so I feel that this barricade politics that is erected by the PPP/Civic Government flies in the face of history; it flies in the face of the struggle that was won by sweat, blood and tears when we fought for the right to liberate here. We had a little arm band.
I can see some faces: Clement Rohee being hauled away, Hon. Member Gail Teixeira and I, and some others, were hauled away from Public Buildings; we were taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID); we were placed before Kendall, the bomb squad officer. He was the one who was giving us chats while we heard screams upstairs. Things were done. Security members did what they felt ought to have done. We did not think it was right but we did not see the barricades. They said we came closer to the fence and some of us did not have on armbands, so they picked us up. There was one occasion when we came demanding flour, the release of the ban on flour, not only was I picked up but my little three-year-old daughter, Adela, now a magistrate was too. We were both thrown into the Brickdam lockups. The police did what they thought they could have done. I did not agree with it, but they thought they did what was right. The question is that there is always police presence and the police will have to be the party to ensure that there is no infraction with the law, but the Member cannot come here and say that there is a law to erect barriers outside of Parliament of Guyana. There is no such law. Therefore once there is no such law, this National Assembly has a duty to uphold the Constitution that guarantees people their right.
Saying that I had not intended to speak as long as I did…, but this is one issue that I believe that we have to labour a bit more, we have to struggle a bit more because we see…[inaudible]
Mr. Speaker: I will not allow that word to be hurled at any Member by you Mr. Neendkumar.
Mr. Nagamootoo: … the creeping walls of dictatorship. I warn tonight, just as how President Ronald Regan told President Mikhail Gorbachev, tear down this wall. We have to bring down the wall of dictatorship or else our nation will be imperiled and we are going to enter into a period of totalitarianism and fascism if the far right is allowed to take control and give guidance to the political process.
The Alliance For Change supports this motion in its entirety and we ask… I did not address the issue of the loudspeaker because I did not want to go there, because we all know the necessity for it, that there is bias coverage of parliamentary events. Therefore so long as there is this bias and selective and discriminatory reporting then the people out there have a right to at least have one form of access to what happens in the National Assembly that they can come and listen to what the parliamentarian says.
I support this motion in its entirety. [Applause]
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