On 17 May 2021 around 02.00 hours, the Police arrested Counsel Rama Valayden at his residence apparently on a charge having to do with the Public Gathering Act. In view of what really transpired between the Police and Me R Valayden is a matter which will need to be thrashed out before an independent body, it is not appropriate to be judgmental at this stage.
The Police is an important institution in any country. Its primary role is to preserve public order and public security. The Commissioner of Police is responsible for all operational matters of the Police Force and he can receive ‘general directions of policy with respect to maintenance of public order’ from the Prime Minister. The structure is well designed and is intended to work in order for the Police to be perceived not as an instrument of politicians in power but as a body working in the national interest in fairness and in conformity with the Rule of Law. The Police has the power under the law to arrest any person reasonably suspected of committing or about to commit an offence which will endanger public safety or public order. This is a power which can and must be used at the time when an offence is being committed. The Police may exercise their powers of arrest at any time but the Police is under an obligation to act fairly and reasonably.
What offends the ordinary person’s sense of justice, fairness and proportionality is the time at which the arrest of Counsel Valayden was made by the Police. Either the Police acting under orders or specific instructions wanted to send a message of fear to the population by acting as they did at 02.00 hours or the Police is deliberately acting in a manner to cause political problems for the Prime Minister since the latter is the Minister responsible for the Police. Why was it necessary for the Police to wake up a Counsel whose movements can be and most likely are being monitored at such an ungodly hour? Why indeed is it necessary for the Police to arrest anyone at such times? Unless an arrest has to be made in circumstances where violence is being used or some other serious offence is being committed, there seems to be no compelling reason for the Police to abuse their powers. Could it be that this particular case was orchestrated to intimidate and frighten him into submission him and, in the process, the whole population?
Section 5 (1) (k) of the Constitution which gives the power of arrest provides as follows: “ in execution of the order of the Commissioner of Police, upon reasonable suspicion of his having engaged in, or being about to engage in, activities likely to cause a serious threat to public safety or public order”.
The event that led to the arrest of Counsel Valayden was a ‘manifestation’ in support of what is happening in the Palestinian territory. Israel has embarked on a path of destruction of everything linked with Hamas. The systematic strikes by Israeli forces over a period of several days against buildings and houses are condemned by the whole world. No person can remain insensitive or indifferent to what we are witnessing daily on the news about the senseless destruction of property and the indiscriminate taking of lives, including babies, children and the elderly. Surely such a demonstration of support for a people in dire pain can by no stretch of the imagination amount to a reasonable suspicion that “a serious threat to public safety or public order” is likely. The reality is that nothing against public safety or public order was noted after the event.
Unless the Police mends its ways and acts in a manner which is considerate, it runs the risk of becoming the enemy of the people and this is why there is such a feeling of outrage at what has happened. I hold no brief for Counsel R Valayden who is capable of looking after himself.
The Police must not be hindered in what it has to do. What, however, is concerning is the perception that its operational independence is compromised. This is why we must speak out against such Police practices. Unless we, as a nation, voice out what we consider to be disproportionate, unfair, arbitrary verging on tyranny, we will all be intimidated. If we do not speak out now for those who are at the receiving end, there will be no one to speak for us when we get hit.
This is the beginning of the end of Freedom.
Democracy and Freedom are at risk.