THE 78 Cubans who were arrested yesterday after camping outside UN House, at Chancery Lane, Port of Spain, for the last three weeks, say they fully intend to defend the charge that they obstructed the free passageway.
The group of asylum seekers appeared before Port of Spain magistrate Sanara Toon-McQuilkin just after 4 pm – some two hours after they were taken to the St Vincent Street courthouse in two police buses.
They appeared in two groups and all pleaded not guilty. Although police prosecutors objected to bail since none of them were working here and very few could give an address at which they are staying, Toon-McQuilkin granted them each $5,000 bail to be approved.
She explained to them, through an interpreter, that someone will have to sign their bail as they could not do so themselves. In his application, their lawyer Wendell Louis said the 78 were well-known to the public and were running from political prosecution and oppression.
“They are seeking a better life,” he said, reiterating that the charge against them was a minor one which carried a fine of $200 or one month simple imprisonment.
He had asked that they be granted their own bail.
Prosecutors sought the magistrate’s permission to have the charge read to the entire group rather than individually. There was no objection from the defence.
This process was repeated when the second batch appeared just before 5.30 pm.
The magistrate called each of their names, and they all entered a not guilty plea, after acknowledging that they understood the charge.
Among the group were a couple of the eight who were arrested in December last year on the same charge.
The eight were freed by Toon-McQuilkin after prosecutors said they were not ready to proceed with the case although trial dates had been set on two occasions.
Since it is unlikely the 78 will access bail until their next court appearance on Tuesday, sources said they will be held at the Immigration Detention Centre until then.
Port of Spain Task Force police, Immigration Division and official Spanish translators, went to Chancery Lane at 5 am, and removed the willing asylum seekers from the location.
They were taken to the Belmont station in police buses where their legal status in TT was being determined by immigration officials.
Their personal belongings were also removed from the area where the were camping, police said in a statement.
The operation was coordinated by acting ACP Joanne Archie and Snr Supt Floris Hodge-Griffith and executed by Insp Lawrence Pooran and Sgt Walker, of the Port of Spain Division.
They were charged by PC Devon Bristol who was told by the magistrate to ensure that his file is submitted to the prosecution by the end of November.
Also yesterday, at least ten other Cubans, who managed to avoid being arrested by police since they went to use nearby bathroom facilities, continued their silent protest outside UN House, shortly after their countrymen were taken to the station. They said they were afraid they too will be arrested.