The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) held what they said was a religious march around the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, on Friday, defying police orders not to do so.
The march, which began shortly after noon, culminated a six-hour prayer and fast session at James Park, led by PDP political leader Watson Duke and the party’s five other assemblymen.
The event was aimed at seeking divine intervention to end the six-six deadlock in the Tobago House of Assembly.
After the prayer and fasting, the party’s supporters had planned to march around the Assembly Legislature seven times in a symbolic gesture.
But as they were about to begin the march, which was led by PDP deputy leader Farley Augustine, a female police officer prevented the group from moving onto the street. She claimed they did not have permission to march.
Augustine and Duke paid no mind to the officer and carried on, telling their supporters to walk in single file, in keeping with the physical-distancing covid19 protocols.
Realising the PDP had disobeyed the officer’s orders, Supt Rohdill Kirk quickly intervened, instructing his officers to stop the march.
He told Duke the PDP had requested permission for a peaceful vigil, not a procession.
Duke, who retained the Roxborough/Delaford seat in the January 25 THA election, responded: “Officer, as the political leader and one who has studied law, the Summary Offences Act speaks about the Police Commissioner granting permission for protests and marches. However, a religious procession does not need permission. That is excluded.”
Kirk questioned whether the march was a religious procession.
Duke said: “Yes, it is. We spent the entire morning praying and fasting. We are walking on one side of the road and we are quiet.”
Kirk said while nobody could prevent them from praying and fasting in James Park, “You see when you get on the streets, that is a different thing.”
He was adamant the march was not a religious procession, owing to the number of supporters who were wearing PDP jerseys and carrying party flags.
Duke told Kirk he was free to lock them up if they did something wrong.
“But if we are doing something right, please be aware we will file legal action.
“I have advised you this is a religious procession. It is a prayer and fast day. We have just come from reading scriptures, preaching to our members. We have freedom of expression.”
Duke said the PDP assemblymen were not wearing political jerseys.
“We have a Tobago flag. So how could you say to us that this is about politics? This is religious.”
Duke repeated his call for the officer to “lock us up” if he felt he was right.
The PDP leader then turned his back on the superintendent and urged supporters to continue with the walk.
The police did not interfere with the marchers, but looked on from the sidelines.
There was also some tension between PDP supporters and a PNM supporter driving a van with a huge PNM flag attached. Ringing a bell while driving near the PDP procession, he drew the ire of some PDP supporters.
Speaking afterwards, Augustine told reporters the party had informed the police about the march.
“We indicated to members of the TTPS that we will be having a religious service here today (Friday),” he said. “Based on the laws of TT, you do not need police permission for a religious procession. You will need for any other type of procession.
“Additionally, the laws do not say that you have to have a religious organisation to have a religious activity.”
He said the party had a religious activity which was protected by the Constitution.
“Therefore, any other law that is inconsistent to the Constitution is null and void. And that is why we persist in walking.”
Augustine said the PDP has had confrontations before with the police.
“I have been an assemblyman since 2017, and the first action I called here at James Park had more police than people.
“I have walked from Roxborough with police chasing us and saying we are not allowed to walk.”
Augustine said the march was successful.
“Tomorrow (Saturday), the other side (PNM) is hastening to have a religious activity. That tells us that we have set the right tone for spirituality on this island.”
He added the party has also gone “beyond depending on our carnality and human intervention and strategies” to solve the deadlock.
“We are depending on Almighty God to solve this. And above all, we are confident that God will resolve this, whichever way it goes.”