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Forty Gang Members Jailed Attorneys Fume…Chester Unfazed

Forty Gang Members Jailed Attorneys Fume…Chester Unfazed
September 13
15:16 2018

REPORTER: News Staff, –

One week after some 40 gang members from two Belize City areas that were included in the state of emergency declaration were detained, they were hauled off to the Hattieville Prison for a month, but not without concerns raised over the basic human rights of the men.

The Human Rights Commission came out swinging after seven days, as almost 100 gang members waited in lockdown areas in various city substations. Vice President Kevin Arthurs wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, listing a number of requests, including an account of the number and conditions of each prisoner detained; confirmation of compliance with section 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of written statements specifying the grounds of detention for each detainee; and mechanisms for accountability to safeguard against any violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of those innocently detained.

The Human Rights Commission was joined in its concern by several very vocal attorneys who condemned the manner in which the men were detained and the locked down, while asserting that innocent persons could be hauled in without reason.

But Deputy Commissioner Williams debunked the comments made by the attorneys about the manner in which the measures are being taken that could affect ordinary citizens, saying: “If you should hear any attorney out there ‘oh the Police will come and lock you down, whether you’re involved or not, ‘ I want to tell the Belizean people, do not be distracted by those noise in the corner…We know the people we are looking for…and any law-abiding citizen has nothing to fear where the state of public emergency is concerned because it is not our intention to go after anybody who is not involved in crime or gang activities.”

The Bar Association has expressed solidarity with law enforcement personnel in ensuring the safety of citizens, but it is also concerned about the rights of the men detained, stating that “any measure taken to address the crime situation should not lead to the abuse of the human rights of any citizen.”

The Bar also has concerns about the legal basis for the invocation of the provision and the manner in which the Police Department has been operating under the new measure.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams told reporters today that he agrees that the detentions must be done in the right way, so that they do not infringe on the rights of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

“If this was a gill net [approach], all 110 of them (detainees) would have gone to prison,” Williams said. “We have said from last week that what we’ll be doing – we’ll be sifting through the list and those persons who we find not to be involved in gangs will be released and even some who we know are involved in gang activities, but because they’re going to school, we’ll try to compromise with them because at the end of the day, we want them to continue their education,” he continued. Williams said the Police have made it clear to the students that they cannot be students and gangbangers simultaneously. The senior cop explained that the ones they let go are gang members who have not been actively involved in criminal activity.

Williams said the allegation that the prisoners were not allowed time to use the bathroom was the farthest thing from the truth and assured that the men were kept in the same manner that prisoners are always kept when in police custody. He assured that the cellblock has a complement of officers sufficient to respond to the needs of the prisoners, which included giving them food, water and allowing them to use the bathroom, and added that they kept the rival gangs at separate stations in Belize City. If space was an issue, he said, they would have been transported to the Ladyville and the Hattieville Police Stations.

One week after the measure has been taken, Williams feels the declaration of public emergency and the detentions were right decisions that were made because mediation and intervention did not yield the kinds of desired results.

“We have borne patience with these different groups,” he charged. “It is about time that we take some measure to let them understand that the way of life that they are living and the fear that they instill in our law-abiding citizens must come to an end. …We cannot continue to have the criminals believe that they can hold us hostage in our country or in our communities.”

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