CONDEMNING what they call vicious acts of sacrilege, a group of religious leaders have written to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, asking them to protect their places of worship.
The letter, penned by the group’s attorney Ashvani Mahabir, will be delivered today. This is the full text of that letter.
Dear Prime Minister,
RE: CRIMES AT PLACES OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
On Sunday June 10th 2018, I convened and chaired a press/media conference at the Kailash Parvat Sharana Gati Ashram in Las Lomas No. 2. The press conference was called to highlight the breaking and entering and burglary of the Ashram on the 6th of June 2018. This conference was attended by several religious leaders including Pundit Param Maraj spiritual head of the Kailash Parvat Sharana Gati Ashram, Pundit Satyanand Maharaj of the Satya Anand Ashram, Pundit Mukram Sirjoo, PRO of the Inter Religious Organization and Imam Ibrahim Asif Ali of the Las Lomas Ahlus Sunnah Wall Jamaat Masjid.
At this press conference, it was decided that a correspondence be submitted to you highlighting this matter and it is on those instructions that I so act.
All leaders present expressed the strongest condemnation at the act of burglarizing a place of worship and denounced it as a vicious act of sacrilege. A view was expressed that the recent spate of attacks may reflect that criminal elements consider religious institutions as “soft targets.” A call was also made for stronger security measures to ensure the safety of those who attend places of religious worship.
This appears to be a new kind of crime, as we noted that this was the second robbery at the said Ashram since it opened in February and Pundit Maraj has now estimated losses in the vicinity of $25,000. We also noted that on May 19th, there were reports of four masked men breaking into the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Freeport and stealing $160,000 worth of cash and jewellery. Also in December 2017, Father Clyde Harvey was robbed by armed men at St Martin’s RC Church in Gonzales, Belmont. There have been several other reports of religious buildings being targeted in separate incidents last year.
It is also sadly ironic that mere hours after our press briefing, that another place of worship, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Hare Krishna Temple in Longdenville was also robbed on Monday June 11th 2018.
This points to an extremely distressing, worrying and painful state of affairs. Religion is a fundamental pillar upon which civil society is based and any attack on places of religious worship is an attack on society itself. If these acts of sacrilege continue, the bedrock upon which family and community life thrives would be threatened and further desperation and frustration would strike upon a nation that is already grappling with other kinds of crime.
We are aware that crime, criminality and the quest for meaningful solutions have faced every administration in Trinidad and Tobago and that your Government continues to invest heavily in an attempt to deal with a scourge that has arrested the development of our country. In these circumstances, we feel comfortable that you would now join us and the rest of the national community in voicing the strongest denunciation and condemnation of these heinous crimes.
Apart from our expectation that you would now seek to make a public statement on this matter, the religious leaders also agreed to the following:
1. To seek a meeting with you and your Minister of National Security to discuss ways in which we can seek to engage our security services to combat this menace.
2. To engage the attention of the Commissioner of Police to encourage more community policing and patrols in an around places of worship particularly on days of religious devotion/service and during special events. Hence the reason for copying that office holder in this correspondence.
3. To request a review of the laws relative to sacrilege and offences committed in places of worship. Notwithstanding the debate on whether punitive sanctions are a deterrent to crime, this is perhaps worth the opening of public dialogue.
In the meantime we are committed to canvassing religious leaders into a common platform to deliberate upon strategies and approaches that would ensure the safety of our followers and to preserve the sanctity and sacredness of all temples, mosques and churches across the land.
We remain confident that with your intervention, that such efforts would reap rewards. We therefore continue to stay afloat with hope that you would find favour with our request.