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Media group condemns police raid on newspaper office in Trinidad

“This is a very scary development. I think the precedent has now been set that police officers willy nilly raid media houses. Yesterday’s development is very unfortunate. We in the Media Association is condemning it in the strongest possible terms,” MATT president Kerry Peters said.

“The reporter, Andre Bagoo as I understand was treated like a criminal, his computer and other personal effects were seized and his home searched before he was taken in for questioning.

“Something like that the association can only frown upon. It is the unrestrained and injudicious intimidation by the police despite calls in the past for them to desist from taking such action at media houses and against journalists,” Peters said.

Late last year, MATT as well as regional and international media organisations condemned the action by the police to raid the television station of the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) after it broadcast a tape showing a young girl being sexually assaulted.

Newsday in a front page story Friday also “strongly condemned” the police action which it said was in a “bid to force senior investigative, political and parliamentary reporter Andre Bagoo to reveal the source of information about his exclusive story on a row between” Gordon and Gafoor.

“Newsday stands by Mr Bagoo’s right to refuse to reveal his sources under any circumstances. If this offends the Integrity Commission, under its present Chairman, (or any other chairman) to the extent where police raids are made on our newsroom and on the house of our reporter, so be it,” the paper’s chief executive officer and Editor in Chief, Therese Mills said in a statement defending Bagoo and all reporters’ rights to protect their sources.

“It is fundamental to the functioning of a journalist that she or he is able to protect sources of information. Without this, the work of the journalist, particularly the investigative journalist, is fatally impaired.”

Mills also noted the coincidence of the police searches and the suspension of Gafoor from the Integrity Commission on Thursday.

“It is also instructive that on the same morning the police raided our newsroom and the home of our reporter, Mr Bagoo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications issued a press release on the appointment by President Max Richards of a Tribunal to investigate the Integrity Commission’s deputy chairman, Gladys Gafoor who has now been suspended from membership of the Commission.”

The tribunal, led by former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Michael de la Bastide, will investigate complaints about Gafoor’s conduct between March 15, 2010 and January 2012 and continuing.

Newsday reported that the police, under the supervision of the head of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) Senior Superintendent Solomon Koon Koon searched the newsroom for almost three hours as well as Bagoo’s home.

The newspaper said viewed the “police action as intimidatory tactics to pressure Bagoo” recalling that on January 20,  “the police wrote Bagoo asking him to disclose the source of his information about the story he wrote on Gordon’s row with Gafoor. Bagoo refused to reveal his sources”.

According to the newspaper, the warrant for the search claimed that “Koon Koon, the lead investigator, had reasonable grounds for believing that documents, written or electronic, laptop(s), hard drive(s), mass storage devices and audio recordings relative to information contained in Bagoo’s article were “concealed” on Newsday’s premises”.

The warrant also stated that such material “will afford evidence as to the commission of a summary offence namely breach of protection of information under Section 35(2) of the Integrity in Public Life Act Chapter 22:01.”

Newsday said that the police left with documents and equipment which they said would have to be further examined at the ACIB, “a police unit of the Office of the Attorney General”. The police also took away Bagoo’s personal mobile phone as well as the one issued to him by the company.

Newsday also reported that three computers were taken away from the report’s home.

Newsday’s senior editor John Babb, a journalist with 65 years experience, said of the police action, “It is the first time I have witnessed this situation.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan is quoted by Newsday as saying that he was shocked to learn of the police raid and was also alarmed that attempts were being made to link the activity with his office.

“The ACIB does not report to the Attorney General. The Attorney General is merely the administrative conduit in the same way that he is for the Judiciary or the Director of Public Prosecutions,” Ramlogan said.

Ramlogan said the ACIB operates in a totally independent manner in accordance with an operational chain of command that is headed by the Commissioner of Police and the head of the ACIB.

“I therefore have no knowledge about this investigation,” he added.

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