Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter
When Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a State of Public Emergency for the parish of St. James last Thursday, January 18, 2018, there were few who had any criticisms for the government’s premiere crime-fighting plan. Now, just six days into the joint police/military mass operation, residents from some of the parish’s more troubled communities have just about had it with the security forces, as relatives of theirs are being detained without reason, and since Thursday, many of them have not been able to see their loved ones, some of whom are students.
When the Western Mirror visited the Freeport Police Station yesterday, Tuesday, January 23, scores of persons could be seen gathered at the gates of the police stronghold. The disgruntled residents, speaking to the Western Mirror, expressed that majority of them had been outside the gates of the police station as early as 8:30 a.m., the time at which most of them were advised that they would have been allowed access to their loved ones in confinement. However, most of them learnt upon visiting that no access would be given.
One man from Barrett Town, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed that while at home with his sons last Thursday night, he was alerted by members of the security forces who requested access to his premises. Upon letting them in, he was briefed on the purpose of their entrance, following which his four sons were arrested and removed from their home.
The man went on to explain that when he inquired why his sons were taken, he was only told that they would not be kept for long, and that their detainment was just part of the larger security operation. That was six days ago. His sons have not been seen or heard from since, leaving the man worried about his sons’ wellbeing.
With many of the others having similar stories, one woman from Rose Heights, relayed to the Western Mirror that her son was taken from home last Saturday. In that incident, the concerned and frustrated mother was told that her son would only be kept for a few hours, as, according to the police, he would just be processed and released. Learning that, she gave him $500 dollars to make his way back home after the processing, but he too was held.
According to the gathering, which consisted of concerned parents and irate relatives, they expressed to this newsroom that they were advised that persons with names A-M would be processed and released, or at the very least, be allowed visitors. Up to press time, however, that did not turn out to be true.
It was also revealed to the Western Mirror that individuals detained from the Quarry shooting, during which one person was killed and four injured, are still in confinement awaiting processing. That shooting took place on Saturday, January 20.
The detainees are reportedly being held at the Freeport Police Station and the Barnett Street Lockup.
POLICE APPEAL FOR SUPPORT
Despite the growing impatience among the family members of the detainees, the police are not conceding, especially in light of what they considered to be boisterous behaviour on the part of the residents. The police report that on Sunday, January 21, residents, whom they claim are not relatives of the detainees, descended upon the Freeport Police Station and were behaving boisterously. The police further reported that some attempted to gain unlawful access to a section of the facility used to house the detainees,forcing the lawmen to demand that they all leave the property. As a result of what the police considered to be open hostility, they were forced to discontinue visiting for detainees.
Inspector Dian Bartley of the St. James police expressed that: “We have an obligation to uphold the human rights and preserve the human dignity of every individual in our custody. Persons who are not associated with detainees one way or another are encouraged to avoid attending the Police facility and creating unnecessary challenges.” She went on to say that now more than ever, the police need the support of all law-abiding citizens, to make the process smoother for all parties involved.
Over 200 persons are currently being detained, and reports reaching this newspaper are that so far, no legal framework is in place to counter human rights violation among detainees. A tribunal is to be set up to facilitate legal recourse, but there has been no confirmation, up to press time, as to when such a tribunal will become accessible to relatives of detainees and their lawyers.