30 January 2023
Mr. Colin John
Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Kingstown
Dear Commissioner John,
Re: Aggression towards journalists outside magistrates’ courts in Kingstown
We write to call to your attention the escalating issue of threats by members of the public against and aggression towards journalists reporting on the Serious Offences Court (SOC) and Kingstown Magistrate’s Court (KMC).
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, of Layou, 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, of Campden Park, was fined for assaulting Kenton Chance. Mr. Chance was injured outside KMC when Mr Small, who was in police custody, tossed a bag at him, causing his camera to hit him in his face, causing actual bodily harm.
This letter relates specifically to an incident outside the SOC last Wednesday, 25 January 2023, that went above and beyond anything that journalists reporting on the court have experienced recently. Kemarlie Durrant (of Searchlight newspaper), Kenton Chance (of iWitness News) and Haydn Huggins (who freelances 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. The SOC hears traffic matters on Wednesdays; therefore, it is not unusual for the courtyard to be crowded on that day.
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 aggression continued after Sgt Ash, who had the prisoner in his custody, left. Mr. Chance appealed to a police constable who was standing nearby to ask the most aggressive of the mob to desist from harassing the journalists. Mr. Chance also appealed to one Pastor Phillips who had come to court as a potential character witness for Mr. Andrews, to ask the young men to cease their hostilities or take the group away with him. Mr. Durrant made an audio recording of some of the exchange that we are prepared to share with you, and we have attached photos (See Appendix I) of the exchange to try to illustrate the proximity of the men to the journalists.
Further, on Friday, 27 January 2023, Mr. Durrant, accompanied by his editor, Clare Keizer, filed a report at the Criminal Investigations Department, in Kingstown, after Bally Alexander, who was jailed for firearm and ammunition offences, repeatedly told Mr. Durrant earlier that day that he (Alexander) would meet Mr. Durrant “outside” (presumably when he is released from prison) and Mr. Durrant’s job would “cost you your life”. These were the words of a man who had just moments earlier told the Chief Magistrate, “I rather dey way my gun dey” and that even in prison, people can get prisoners to murder other prisoners by poisoning them.
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.
While we 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.
We are prepared to meet with you to discuss this matter in greater detail.
Clare Keizer — Searchlight
Kemarlie Durrant — Searchlight
Kenton Chance — iWitness News
Haydn Huggins — The Vincentian
Cc: The Minister of National Security
The Chief Magistrate
The Senior Magistrate
The Superintendent of Prisons
Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers
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