PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar Tuesday vowed to win the war against the criminal elements in Trinidad and Tobago as her administration announced the widening of the “hot spot” areas under curfew as part of the three and a half week old state of emergency (SOE).
“I want to give the assurance to you and the country that our plans for ensuring the security of our citizens, those plans are well advanced, we are collecting new intelligence as we are going along, this will cause us to add new areas to the list of areas under curfew.
“I want to tell you quite honestly I intend to win this war. This is a fight not only between the government and the criminals, this is a fight between our citizens, our people and the criminals, our protective services…are working extremely hard,” she told a news conference following a lengthy meeting of the National Security Council.
She said she was urging the law abiding members of the country to continue providing credible information to the law enforcement officials, adding “we are all in this together, we will win together, no criminal will be allowed to deny this country and its citizens their freedom.
“As your Prime Minister I give this assurance I will not abandon this fight, I will pursue this just cause to the end to ensure that our country and our people are safe in Trinidad and Tobago,” she added.
The Prime Minister announced 11 new hot spot areas in addition to the six already under the five hour curfew, adding that to the measures being taken on land, “we will also have the curfew imposed along the 362 kilometers of our Trinidad and Tobago coast line and that will extend outward…three nautical miles”.
The new measures go into effect from Tuesday and the Prime Minister indicated also that the SOE had allowed for law enforcement authorities to arrest people on outstanding warrants and other crimes.
She said the decision of the Magistrate Court to dismiss the charges against 21 detainees on Monday was an assurance that the rule of law is still functioning.
The men had been charged under the controversial anti-gang legislation that allows for anyone to be held for a period of four months without bail once he or she is suspected of being a member of a criminal gang. The act came into force a few days before the SOE was announced on August 21..
“I would not want us to focus on the anti-gang legislation and what may have been the difficulty with the law coming in recently and evidence being gathered prior to that,” she said indicating that one-eighth of those detained were held for gang related activities.
“Let us not lose focus, the fight that we have is a fight against criminals. It is not just only gangs and gang related offences. It has to do with homicides, it has to do with drug possession, it has to do with firearm possession and then all the other myriad offences…”
“Let us not lose sight of that whilst we pondered upon what happened yesterday or did not happen yesterday,” she said in relation to the court cases, adding “some may see that as a strike, I do not see it as that. I see it clearly as the rule of law operating in our country.
“When I made my statement (in Parliament last week I said) there are the checks and balances in the system when people were crying and wailing and gnashing teeth, saying this is only going to create injustice and abuse and I said no, you have the rule of law that will continue to operate under the state of emergency and people have their right and remedies and this is what happen in the courts yesterday.
“This is an example of the system which protects itself and preserves the rule of law,” she added, indicating that she did not believe that there would be a significant number of detainees being released by the courts.
“There may be a slippage in that regard with one or two or three but I think in the majority and in the main we will succeed in the task that is before us,” she said, adding that prior to the SOE there had been a “tremendous amount of slippage in terms of conviction rates in this country”.
She said in many instances when cases “slip out of the courts” witnesses are afraid, some are killed adding “there are many reasons why there is that slippage in terms of the conviction rate…”.
Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs told reporters that 2, 043 persons had been detained since the SOE with 446 being held on gang related activities. The police said they have also recovered 89 “sophisticated weapons of mass destruction” and an assortment of 12,000 rounds of ammunition.
Prisons Commissioner John Rougier denied that the detainees were being held under inhumane conditions.
“I can say categorically there has been no inhumane treatment,” adding “there is no heavy overcrowding within the system”.
Rougier said that reports that detainees were being forced to take early baths had to do with the fact that there was an extremely small window between waking up and getting ready for court appearances.
“We in the prison system are doing all within our powers to ensure justice is maintained,” he said adding the prison staff members were also aware of the United Nations standards under which inmates are kept.
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