The OWTU condemns threat to democracy

Friends Please see attached information on the arrest of David Abdullah - General Secretary of the OWTU and leader of FITUN - and other protesters on the Peoples Democracy demonstration against the introduction of Property Tax in Trinidad and Tobago. We have worked with David over many years on many international campaigns. The George Padmore Institute has invited David to give the inaugural "John La Rose Annual Memorial Lecture series" on 20th March at Logan hall University of London.

MEDIA RELEASE

23 DECEMBER, 2009

The OWTU condemns threat to democracy

The OWTU condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions taken by the police against peaceful protestors last Friday the 18th December, 2009 outside Parliament during the Property Tax Debate. The OWTU further condemn the arrest of our General Secretary of our Union, David Abdulah and views the recent statements made by the Acting Commissioner of Police, James Philbert as inconsistent, contradictory, bias and without merit.

His recent statements at the Press conference yesterday (22 December, 2009) is completely opposite and contrary to his earlier statements, where he stated that he felt the police action may have been excessive. Now, just a few days later the Commissioner is claiming not only that the police showed restraint and was generous, but that more protestors should have been arrested, and then if that is not enough went on to threaten to lay more charges.

It is quite obvious to us that this complete turn around must have been the result of political directives handed down to the Acting Commissioner, which he is compelled to follow to the letter. This therefore compromises his independence as a Police Commissioner with a duty to protect and serve THE PEOPLE independent of political instructions.

We took careful note of the comments made by the Prime Minister at the Press Conference held at his officer on Monday. When asked by reporters if he had been briefed on the matter concerning the protest outside the red house last Friday; whilst claiming he was not yet briefed, he immediately proceeded to describe how protesters were dealt with in Copenhagen and that the police used whatever resources were available to them. This kind of police action, we believe carries the full approval and support of the Prime Minister.

What is particularly disturbing is that the Acting Commissioner considers, what the people of Trinidad and Tobago witnessed themselves on television and led to a public outcry, as police generosity. If this is indeed the police being generous and showing restraint, then, what will be considered by the Commissioner as standard police brutality and violence?

We maintain our position that citizens of this country have a right to peaceful picket. This is a right which has been fought for and won by the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the OWTU will stand strong in defence of this constitutional right. We further maintain that absolutely no laws were broken and that the arrest of David Abdulah was a provocation with no reason or basis.

We wish to state clearly that we had no percussions, rhythm section, mega phones or any such devises or instruments. Indeed, if the offence was, disturbing the parliament, then why is the charge one of obstruction of the free passage way under the ‘Highway’ code?

We will not allow this government working through the Acting Commissioner or any government to distract us or the population from the real issue at hand. The fundamental right to voice our opinion and to picket is a right guaranteed in every free and civilised society and certainly under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

To resort to the use of gun wielding, baton swinging police officers to silence people is to trample on these fundamental rights. The use of intimidation and fear to cow people into submission will fail as our history has shown us time and again. It is a history which the Government and the Acting Commissioner of Police seem to have conveniently forgotten.

We also must condemn the Acting Commissioner’s statement that this was an orchestrated event. We cannot orchestrate the police beating, brutalizing and pushing people or their use of excessive force. This was their action based on instructions they received.

The OWTU calls on the Acting Police Commissioner to make public the report of the investigation into the illegal gathering in Woodford Square on September 12, 2008, which was led by the Prime Minister himself. It seems as though there is one law for the PNM and another law for the rest of the population, particularly those who oppose them.

The OWTU views the threat of pressing more charges and arresting more protestors as a direct and blatant attack on the democracy and freedom of this country.  These threats will not be taken likely nor will we forget the actions of the police meted out to law abiding citizens on Friday.

We wish to warn the Acting Commissioner of Police against continuing to accept ill advice and instructions from the PNM government under the guise of trumped up charges against law abiding citizens staging legal protest against draconian measures by the government. Nevertheless, if he chooses to lay more arrests and charges, the OWTU anxiously await such actions by someone who obviously have no choice but to sing for his supper.

Mr. James Philbert and the Government need to be reminded that the freedom we enjoy came as a result of many bitter struggles, hard fought and won battles and therefore we shall NEVER EVER give them up. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

We will not be threatened! We will not be Intimidated!

OILFIELDS WORKERS’ TRADE UNION