Govt using COVID-19 to crush democracy – PPP

By Guyana Times,

Two members of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, who on Saturday picketed the Foreign Affairs Ministry, were brought before the court to answer the charge of breaching the COVID-19 measures; a charge the Opposition is contending is intimidation.

Former Parliamentarian Neil Kumar and Raphael Boodhoo appeared before Magistrate Leron Daly at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday to answer the charge: which stated that, on May 16, they breached No 2 (1) restriction on social activities in the COVID-19 Emergency Measures.

Kumar was accused of hosting a meeting of a fraternal civic organisation.

The duo was arrested while picketing the Ministry, calling for the Carter Center to be allowed into the country to complete its observation of the March 02, General and Regional Elections.

The Government, via the heavily politicised National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF), has been consistently denying the Carter Center Observers’ Team entry into Guyana to observe the ongoing recount of the votes. This denial is what prompted the PPP/C supporters to take to the streets.

The defendants’ lawyers, via audio-visual means, made an application for self-bail, which was granted by Magistrate Daly in the sum of $25,000 each. The defence, in Court, contended that the charges are bad in law and should be immediately dismissed. The duo will make their next court appearance on June 18.

Following the hearing, Kumar said the aim of the charges is to intimidate them, but he promised to continue the fight for the restoration of democracy in Guyana.

“This is extremely frustrating! What we were doing was protesting peacefully. All of us had our masks on, we were 12 feet away (from each other), and we had our peaceful picket hand bands. I have been picketing for over 40 years now, and I have never seen such rude Police and this type of action. What we were protesting for is for Guyana; is for the people of Guyana we were protesting for; so that the Carter Center and the IRI (International Republican Institute) could come back here and be at the recount. This is nonsense that is going on in this country!” Kumar noted.

Misusing COVID-19 pandemic

Meanwhile, former Opposition MP Attorney-at-Law Priya Manickchand said the charges signal the beginning of an entrenchment of dictatorial behaviour from the caretaker Government, whom she accused of using the COVID-19 pandemic to suppress those who dare to oppose them.

“What we see here is the beginning of an entrenchment of dictatorial behaviour, and the people of Guyana have to rise up in one voice and resist this with all our might, or it is going to consume us all. What happened is (that) the world is experiencing a health crisis, a pandemic in the form of COVID-19, and the Guyana caretaker Government is attempting to use a crisis, a hardship, something they should be protecting us from, to further entrench themselves in office in defiance of the will of the people.”

Further, she accused Granger of using COVID-19 as an excuse to keep the Carter Center out from continuing the observation of the tabulation of results.

“He says they can’t come because of COVID-19, and, in the meanwhile, we have seen flight upon flight upon flight land in this country with hundreds of persons, and there were very little concerns about COVID-19,” Manickchand said.

The former Education Minister added that Kumar was part of a group that were exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protests, and they were adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. She added that Boodhoo was not even part of the picketing exercise, but rather was just in the vicinity.

However, the Police are contending that the COVID-19 guidelines outlaw such picketing exercises.

“The two persons who were charged were charged because they were protesting the misuse of the COVID-19 guidelines and the COVID-19 situation to keep the Carter Center out.

The Government was misusing COVID-19 to lock the Carter Center out. One of the gentlemen who were charged this morning, the other one wasn’t even there, the one that was charged this morning, Mr Neil Kumar, was peacefully picketing against the misuse of that COVID-19 and, irony of ironies, there is a second misuse now with the state charging him for expressing his constitutional right to peacefully speak against and oppose the Government on that issue,” she contended.

The attorney noted that, just last week, there were pro-Government supports outside of the National Recount venue at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre (ACCC), and yet the Police did not use that opportunity to charge any of them.

Manickchand said she is of the view that the Government is attempting to intimidate persons who question its actions, and she called on Guyanese to make sure this does not happen.

Section one of the order which was signed by caretaker Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence states: “except as otherwise provided in this Notice, every person shall remain in the confines of his or her home and its yard space.”

Section two lays out the various restrictions on “social” activities. The closest correlation that can be drawn to protests is section 2m, where restrictions are placed on “a meeting of a fraternal society, private or social club or civic association or organisation; or (n) any other social activity.”

On May 16, scores of protesters demonstrated in front of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, calling on the caretaker APNU/Alliance For Change coalition Government to allow the Carter Center to return to observe the National Election Recount.

Three of the protesters were arrested by ranks of the GPF, who claimed the protesters had breached the Public Health Ordinance in relation to COVID-19. Those arrested were each subsequently released on $20,000 station bail.

PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, during a virtual press conference on Saturday, had contended that the protesters were adhering to all the safety protocols, such as wearing masks and practising social distancing.

Photo: Attorney-at-Law Priya Manickchand at the court on Thursday (Guyana Times)