KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — Several media workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have written to Police Commissioner, Colin John, expressing concern at what they regard as the “escalating issue of threats by members of the public against and aggression” towards journalists covering the Serious Offences Court (SOC) and Kingstown Magistrate’s Court (KMC).
In the Jan. 30 letter, copied to the National Security Minister, the Chief Magistrate, Senior Magistrate as well as the Superintendent of Prisons, the journalists said “this has been an ongoing situation about which journalists have complained repeatedly over the years to police officers assigned to the court.
“In fact, in July 2018, Shanet Williams … was convicted of a charge in connection to a death threat she made against journalist Lyf Compton in connection with his work. Then, in December 2018, Danroy Small … was fined for assaulting Kenton Chance,” said the letter, which was also copied to the regional media group, the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM).
Chance, who is also the correspondent of the Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), was injured outside KMC when Small, who was in police custody, tossed a bag at him, causing his camera to hit him in his face, causing actual bodily harm.
Chief Magistrate, Rechanne Browne, speaking in Court on Friday said, “I have noted your concerns and I had no idea all that excitement used to happen outside”, adding ”there will be no excitement outside”.
In the letter, the journalists said that their correspondence relates specifically to an incident outside the SOC last week Wednesday, Jan. 25, “that went above and beyond anything that journalists reporting on the court have experienced recently”.
It said that Kemarlie Durrant of Searchlight newspaper, as well as Chance, who is also the managing editor of the online publication, iWitness News, and journalist, Haydn Huggins, who writes for The Vincentian newspaper, were in the courtyard of the SOC waiting to photograph Jermaine Andrews who was remanded to prison pending sentencing after pleading guilty to firearm and ammunition charges.
“However, when the police officers exited the building with Mr Andrews in their custody and the journalists began to attempt to photograph him, many of the people in the courtyard, who were apparently friends of Mr Andrews’, accosted the journalists, shouted insults at them and attempted to prevent them from photographing the prisoner.
“In fact, one of the men was so aggressive and was so close to Mr Chance, that Sergeant Atnel Ash had to shout at him to stop assaulting the journalists. At one stage, one of the men even attempted to pass a hat to Mr Andrews (while he was in police custody) to use to hide his face — passing the hat being a clear breach of security,” the letter noted.
The letter added that Durrant made an audio recording of some of the exchange and, last Friday, accompanied by his editor, Clare Keizer, filed a report at the Criminal Investigations Department, in Kingstown, after another person “who was jailed for firearm and ammunition offences” repeatedly told Durrant that his job would “cost you your life”.
“Journalism is an honest and legitimate profession that is a vital pillar of any democracy. Media practitioners reasonably expect that they would be allowed to practice their craft without being assaulted and threatened — outside of a court of law of all places. We would like to ask that you use your good office to address this situation, urgently,” the letter said.
The journalists said that while they hope that this would not be the case, “the actions of people outside of the court and the apparent inaction in addressing it leaves us to believe that it is only a matter of time before a journalist or a court worker is assaulted or seriously injured by a member of the public displeased by people performing their duties relating to the court”.
The journalists said that they are prepared to meet with the police commissioner “to discuss this matter in greater detail”.