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The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) condemns in the strongest terms the unprovoked brutality suffered by the Henry family at the hands of elements of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) at the Sparendaam Police Station Tuesday night. In a statement the GHRA rejects what it described as the self-serving version of these events released by the GPF. The GHRA also feels some measure of responsibility for having encouraged the Henry family that their initial reluctance, for safety reasons, to attend the event might be overstated. What the GHRA had considered isolated incidents by individuals against the family on WCB now appear more of a systematic pattern. The GHRA is of the opinion, therefore, that the treatment the family suffered is not coincidental.
At the invitation of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) the Henry family was returning home from attending an event at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Georgetown related to the murder of two of their sons on WCB. The Argentine expert, Dr. Luis Fondebrider, invited to Guyana to assess whether his organization could contribute to GPF efforts to resolve the WCB murders, gave an illustrated lecture of the work around the world of his organization, the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropologists (EAAF). The Henry family, Colwyn, the brother of the murdered Joel, his mother Gail Johnson and Gladstone Henry, father of Isiah (also murdered), travelled together in a car driven by Colywn. The family of Haresh Singh, the third murdered youth, who also attended the event left in a mini-bus about the same time.
At approximately 8.30 p.m. last night (Dec.15th) the GHRA received a call from a distraught Gail Johnson. She requested GHRA to come immediately to the Sparendaam Police Station where her son, Colwyn, was being detained. The GHRA arrived at the station some twenty minutes later.
At this point the GHRA witnessed a chaotic scene with Colwyn chained to the floor, the family lawyer, Nigel Hughes, protesting the treatment of his client, many police officers milling around to no evident purpose, Colwyn’s mother phasing in and out of consciousness as a result of elevated blood pressure resulting from being manhandled by the police, and Gladstone Henry also attempting to inject sanity into the police behaviour.
A police woman Sergeant eventually arrived, having come from another area, who imposed some order and procedure into subsequent events.
The GHRA learnt then that around 7.30 p.m. the Henry’s car was stopped at a road block outside Sparendaam Police station where (some) cars were required to produce documents. He had the requisite documents except the paper version of his driving license which in the rush to get to the Cathedral he had forgotten at home along with his wallet. He showed the police officer the electronic copy of his license on his cell phone. The GHRA can vouch this is a clear and precise photo with all relevant details immediately visible. The police officer refused to accept this version and ordered Colwyn, despite family protests, to drive his car closer to the police station.
Subsequent attempts by Colwyn Henry to have the rank talk to the Commander of Region Five, who he called on his cell to vouch for the validity of his license, were refused by the rank who stated he wasn’t talking to anyone. Gail Johnson, his mother, verbally protested this behaviour. The rank then declared his intention to arrest Colwyn Henry and moved to physically detain him. Colwyn brushed him off.
This provoked the physical intervention of a number of policemen – some in uniform, others in plainclothes. The GHRA has seen the bloodied face mask of Colwyn Henry. Ms. Johnson’s attempts to intervene led to a vicious physical attack by one particular plainclothes police officer which provoked retaliation from Colwyn Henry to protect his mother. Video evidence of this attack is available on social media.
About an hour later, after insistence from both the GHRA and the family’s lawyer, an ambulance was called by the police to transfer Ms. Johnson to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). About two hours later after a statement had been taken from Colwyn Henry in the presence of Mr, Hughes, he was transferred to GPHC at the insistence of Mr. Hughes who accompanied him for a medical examination.
Colwyn Henry was charged with five offences relating to driving without a license, resisting arrest and assaulting the police and subsequently released on $15,000. bail. His mother, Gail Johnson, faces two charges related to assault. The family eventually reached home at 2.00 a.m. Wednesday, December 16th. and were ordered to appear back at the Sparendaam Magistrates Court this morning at 9.00 a.m. The cases were then postponed and they were ordered to return to court tomorrow. Neither Colwyn Henry nor Gail Johnson has any prior charges or convictions.
The behaviour of some of these GPF policemen in this incident starkly revealed the lack of capacity of the GPF to perform even the most rudimentary civil routines, such as checking licenses, without provoking the bacchanal described above. Nothing of the physical architecture of police stations nor the demeanour of police officials suggests the GPF has transitioned from its colonial origins as a Police Militia. Reinforced concrete and barbed wire project the image of a group under siege from – rather than integrated into – the community. Furniture is rudimentary, nothing personalized, nor individualized.
One visible saving grace in the office of the Traffic Room was the well-constructed wall charts of 2019 and 2020 Road Accidents, giving numbers of fatalities, etc. while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.