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Thursday 21 November 2019
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Damages for shaving Muslim prisoner’s beard

THE State has conceded that shaving an ex-prisoner's beard because he is a Muslim and denying him the right to act as an imam for his fellow Muslim inmates is unconstitutional.

As a result, Justice Robin Mohammed will assess damages for Shazim Mohammed, 47, an ex-prisoner, who sued over being denied the right to grow a beard and lead other Muslim prisoners in prayer. The case was heard in the San Fernando High Court on Friday morning.

Mohammed, of San Juan, served a six-year jail sentence from 2001.

He contended that the very day he entered the Maximum Security Prison, officers shaved off his beard. The following year, it was shaved again.

In a constitutional motion filed by attorney Sunil Gosine, Mohammed said prison authorities banned him from leading prayers for other Muslim inmates as an imam.

In an affidavit, he said after his beard was shaved, he continued to lead Muslim prisoners in prayer services, 30 at the Frederick Street prison, 70 at the Maximum Security Prison and 30-40 at Carrera. But prison officers, he added, eventually banned him from doing so.

Mohammed said on 5, 225 days he was not allowed to lead prayers in prison. Muslims are commanded to pray five times daily.

In an affidavit, Mohammed said, "All the 5,225 offences of denying me the right to pray together with my fellow inmates and conduct my services as an imam had caused me to suffer great distress. I was being singled out for deliberate, discriminatory, harsh and oppressive treatment that was contrary to my religious belief as a devout Muslim and my constitutional right to carry out my belief."

When the case came up before Mohammed, attorney for the Attorney General Leanne Thomas said the State had decided to concede that the applicant's right to freedom of expression his religious beliefs had been breached.

The judge said the case was one of public interest, as it was a scenario which should be avoided by public bodies,

On damages to be assessed, he ordered Gosine and the AG's attorneys to file affidavits.

The case was adjourned to January 27.

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