ON THE cusp of its 30th anniversary, Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr has apologised for the traumatic effects the 1990 attempted coup had on the country.
Bakr is challenging a decision to pursue a criminal complaint against him after he refused to answer a summons to testify before the commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup. In an affidavit, he not only apologises but also gives reasons for the uprising which claimed the lives of over 20 people and led to widespread looting in the nation’s capital.
Then Prime Minister ANR Robinson and other parliamentarians were held hostage in the Red House, as were TTT staff at the television station. Much of downtown Port of Spain was destroyed or damaged as fires were set in looted out stores, malls and other buildings.
Bakr says the country has also spent millions enquiring into the events of 1990, and he believes it is now necessary for him to provide answers. “By way of this affidavit, I shall answer. I believe that it is necessary at this stage,” he said.
The Muslimeen leader says he also believes it will help “heal the nation and foster national consensus” on the criminal justice system, and the systemic failures of investigations into extra-judicial police killings. “I hope you understand my rationale behind the 1990 events,” he wrote after explaining the reasoning behind it.
He added, “For all the pain I caused the nation I am sorry. Now it is time for closure.” He also says he wants his legacy to be known as that of the “defender of the people of TT.”
Bakr’s lawsuit names Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, as the defendant. In his affidavit, Bakr addresses him by name.
“So, in short Mr Gaspard, what caused the coup: (a) extra-legal, arbitrary and/or summary executions by the TTPS; (b) a corrupt government; (c) ripe conditions of social unrest.
“As a country, we must guard against all three categories individually and collectively. Also, please consider that I am very much concerned that there may be killer gangs in existence in the TT Police Service masquerading as TTPS officers. That also may have been a reason for my non-attendance at the commission. A witness in fear of the TTPS.
“But I am a lion, a smart lion, but now is my time to speak,” he said. Bakr said there was “a series of events culminating in the coup d’état on July 27th, 1990.” He spoke of evidence he said he had of high-profile people involved in the drug trade, police killings, and social unrest.
In his affidavit, Bakr describes the DPP as a “good man” who should not remain silent, and also called for problems facing the Police Complaints Authority to be addressed so the “systemic failures in the police service” can be properly investigated. Bakr failed to appear before the commission on two occasions — August 29, 2012, and also September 23, 2013.
On the first occasion, Bakr cited an ongoing case against him in the High Court, and the second time he said he would appear only if he was paid to give evidence.
The private summons, filed by the secretary to the commission, is now before the magistrates’ court and an in-person case management hearing is set for July 20 to set a date for the hearing of the matter “before the month of August.” Magistrate Sarah De Silva is presiding.
Last week, Bakr’s attorneys filed a judicial review application, which will be heard on Friday by Justice Nadia Kangaloo at a virtual hearing.
Bakr is seeking a declaration that the continuation of the prosecution of him is irrational and tantamount to an abuse of process. He wants an order to stay the matter in the magistrates’ court.
FACING $2,000 FINE
According to the application, although the commission referred the matter to DPP Roger Gaspard, who took the position he would not lay charges against Bakr, it went ahead and filed the private criminal complaints in accordance with the Commission of Enquiry Act.
The matter was first heard, and the testimony taken before then chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar. It was one of the part-heard matters before her, and was transferred to a new magistrate.
However, the application says the DPP had the power to discontinue, at any stage before judgment is delivered, criminal proceedings instituted by either himself or any other person or authority.
It also contended that the effect of the covid19 pandemic on an already overburdened trial courts was unpredictable, confusing and complex and from a practical perspective, there was the issue of delay.
In his affidavit in support of the application, Bakr said he failed to attend the commission hearing because it had the potential to prejudice his then ongoing trial for sedition. The trial ended in a hung jury and a new trial was ordered.
“I was placed in a double jeopardy position, damned if I do and damned if I do not,” he said. He mentions the amnesty he received in 1990 and his success at the Privy Council in relation to his continued prosecution over the failed coup. If found guilty, Bakr faces a fine of $2,000.
He says he still owes fees to his previous attorney, Wayne Sturge, and his current one, Criston J Williams.
Bakr has also taken issue with the hearing of the matter in person, since, he says, he is a 79-year-old diabetic. “I am a lion, but this is covid19 season. I am extremely susceptible to contracting this virus. I am very concerned.
“Why is there this seemingly rush to do my case before elections in August. Is it a public spectacle the powers that be wished to have with me going to court in this covid19 season, that just happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the 1990 Coup?”