St Lucia police and the freedom of speech and expression (commentary by Melanius Alphonse)

St Lucia police and the freedom of speech and expression (commentary by Melanius Alphonse)

New questions have surfaced in relation to the human rights record of the Royal St Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) – still subject to Leahy law sanctions, lest anyone forget – as to the rationale and underlying statutory provisions regarding the denial of placards, at the International Women’s Day March in Saint Lucia last Thursday.

Efforts by the commissioner of police, Severin Monchery, to explain such have resulted in conflicting levels of authority, inconclusive intelligence, random interpretation of the Public Order Act and the rule of law generally.

The march was organised by Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, the leading institution on women’s rights, social and economic equally.

They advocate for and on behalf of women and girls who are victims and survivors of child abuse, rape, domestic violence and lack of access to justice. These civil issues put them at odds with the unconscionable policies of the government of Saint Lucia, in their confusion as to what is and isn’t identity politics, causing an obstacle to progress.

At a press conference, police commissioner Monchery said that Raise Your Voice indicated: “They would not be using any placards at the march; the only thing that would be used was a banner… she further indicated to me that she was not expecting no more than 25 people at her march, based on her past experiences.

“I did indicate to her that I had information that there may be other people joining the match. She categorically denied that… the police at no point indicated to Raise Your Voice that they should not use placards…

“The police have given permission before for marches. I had no instruction from no government official, I had no discussion with any ministry or minister in relation to the march as to whether it should have been held.

“As a matter of fact, the only discussion when I thought of not authorizing the march based on what I had heard, I sought advice from my minister… so had it been for the police alone, I would not have authorized the march.”

Notwithstanding the commissioner’s claim “We never restricted the use of placards”, a picture tells a thousand words. It is understood that a complaint to international human rights organisations and the US Congress is expected.

Monitoring the march, I wrote in a blog post during the live broadcast: “The police (if correct) are not helping themselves with the order of no placards. That’s an abuse of rights and freedom. Perhaps sanctions are not biting?

“The order of no placards in a march on International Women’s Day, compliments of the government and/or the police, is a violation of civil and human rights and freedom of expression and speech. Another reason for the international community to be concerned. But hey, great turnout! The heat is on.”

The significance of the order and on whose instructions is pertinent, in particular, to which section of the Public Order Act is referenced: and whose order was it to threaten participants to stop that march if that instruction was not followed?

Despite the frequency of errors and the explanations by commissioner of police, Severin Monchery, there is no clarity as to what and who at the commencement of the march was responsible for the order of no placards, contrary to the Public Order Act and further discrimination against women. Yet the order was enforced.

It is commonly known that the police cannot dictate the manner in which a message is conveyed at a march and the commissioner is under no obligation to take advice or direction from anyone, but solely to follow the Public Order Act and to administer the law.

It is not in his power to make the law. But on such an occasion the police regard for women’s freedom of expression took a backward step in Saint Lucia, and who has the right to bear a placard in a march.

In this regard, I sought the opinion of a legal luminary: “The order by the police of no placards was a deliberate attempt to stifle freedom of expression guaranteed under the provisions of the constitution. Placards pose no threat to public order and national security of public safety, and people must be allowed to carry placards to express the purpose and the reason for the march. By preventing them from having placards they have in fact suffocated or attempted to suffocate the march contrary to the provisions of the constitution.”

Nevertheless, a few participants proudly displayed their placards. Civil servants at work in government offices had their say:

Melanius Alphonse

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]


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