Man who voiced opposition to new curfew measures arrested
St Ann resident Shaquille Higgins has become the third person to be jailed by the police after openly voicing his displeasure at COVID-19 containment measures announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Higgins was taken into custody by the St Ann police hours after a video - in which he unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade against Holness - went viral. The police said that he was locked up in relation to a case of larceny of a dwelling committed last Saturday and not because of his calumnious remarks.
"Investigators were alerted to Higgins' location by his own declarations, which immediately went viral on social media," the police said in a statement.
"The constabulary would like to reiterate the fact that all citizens in our democratic society enjoy wide ranging rights and liberties, including freedom of speech. However, those rights and liberties come with responsibilities and implications," the police added.
But comments made by men, who appear to be cops, who were seen in a video arresting Higgins appear to contradict the JCF's statement. One of them was heard asking the young man whether he was drinking, to which he nodded in the affirmative. Then came another question: "A di drinking boots yuh up?", a clear reference to the viral video in which he protested the adjusted nightly curfew.
Finds the matter troubling
Commenting on the development, Isat Buchanan, an attorney-at-law who chairs the human rights commission of the opposition People's National Party (PNP), said he finds the matter troubling.
"It is not insignificant that this person is also the person who made a public video expressing his views on the curfew restrictions recently imposed," Buchanan said.
He took issue with what he called the "public dissemination of the video recording" of the man, which he said is "undignified and likely without the person's consent". Additionally, Buchanan said that the the dissemination of a video recording of an apology at what appears to be a police station, offends the accused's right to seek counsel, right against self- incrimination, and is potentially evidence of a confession given under duress.
"These issues bring to the fore the need to revisit colonial laws which the Jamaica Constabulary Force is mandated to enforce, such as the Towns and Communities Act of 1843, last amended in 1997. Our colonial laws were designed to keep enslaved and formerly enslaved people in Jamaica censored in order to deny them their personhood and dignity as human beings. Today, we see how remnants of this manifest itself in the way in which the enforcers of these laws act," Buchanan said.
There have been at least two other instances in which persons who have criticised Prime Minister Holness' use of the Disaster Risk Management Act to curtail movement in a bit to fight COVID-19, have found themselves in trouble with the law.
Dayne Mitchell, a resident of Arnett Gardens, St Andrew, was arrested on April 1 last year after a video of him voicing his resistance to the islandwide curfew went viral. He pleaded guilty in court and was fined $60,000.
Another man, The Reverend Peter Chambers, a pastor in Brown's Town, St Ann, who had been waging a campaign on social media against Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the COVID-19 measures, was arrested by a team from the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime. A file has been submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for a ruling on whether Chambers should be charged.