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…deems action an abuse of power, intimidation of witnesses
The arrest and detention of six of the nine women who came forward as alibi witnesses for Gladston Henry, recently charged along with three other men with the murder of Haresh Singh, is shocking, the Guyana Human Rights Association said in a statement.
Gladston Henry is the brother and cousin respectively of the deceased Joel and Isiah Henry. The women had voluntarily presented themselves accompanied by their lawyer at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Charged with ‘perverting the course of justice’, they were placed on G$100,000 and were transferred overnight to the La Penitence lock-up.
Haresh Singh’s murder came days after the gruesome deaths of Joel and Isiah Henry in September 2020 towards the end of a long and acrimonious elections process that heightened racial tensions. The GHRA said despite the sensitivities and the public interest surrounding this case, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) have made no statement to date explaining why, out of the blue, they have charged four persons with Haresh Singh’s murder.
“Each aspect of the procedure adopted by the CID towards these women witnesses raises questions. Why threaten the women with arrest prior to interviewing them? Why excessive bail of $100,000? Why detain all the women? The inference to be drawn is that such behaviour is intended to intimidate the women into abandoning their statements,” the rights body contended. According to the GHRA local and international law is clear that the police may arrest only if a person is reasonably suspected of committing an offence. “People cannot be detained ‘to assist with an enquiry’, which appears to be what has taken place in this matter. Un-convicted persons must be treated as innocent, which doesn’t rule out being charged, but does rule out detaining them which should always be a last resort. The women were eventually released on bail at 11.30 p.m. Friday night when they had to travel to their various rural homes. Everything surrounding this event smacks of malicious abuse of police powers against women.”
According to the GHRA, prosecuting the legal dimensions of the West Coast Berbice (WCB) murders has been mired in ethnic politics from the outset, rendering the work of the GPF particularly difficult. The body said it was clear that resolving these heinous murders without further fueling ethnic tensions was a task beyond the capability of the GPF. “This is not a comment on the quality of individual police officers, but on polarised politics and the technical complexity of the manner in which the deaths occurred.”
“For these reasons, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) together with like-minded individuals and organisations sought to secure the services of the internationally renowned and politically impartial Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAAF) in December 2020. This initiative was frustrated by the refusal of permission by the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the Director of the EAAF to interact with the CID during an exploratory visit. Moreover, formal assurances of exchanges of information were never followed through.”
The GHRA said the unwillingness of the Government to acknowledge and constructively manage the ethnic dimensions of this case risks blundering into further ethnic disturbances. Moreover, it said sacrificing the fragile professionalism of the GPF and the CID in particular to political purposes is a high-risk strategy. “The efficiency and professionalism of the GPF requires in general less, not more, political interference. The major concern of the GHRA is the risk of this case being tainted by the larger confrontation currently taking place between the political directorate and the Guyana Police Force. Moreover, the Government’s declared intention of creating a ‘new force’ comprising members of both the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force would formalise the existing practice of treating both institutions as subject to political direction.”