THE police held Islamic Front head Umar Abdullah on Thursday morning for allegedly participating in an unauthorised march at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, to protest against covid19 vaccinations. Abdullah later told Newsday he had been released from police custody, after having had "an enlightening" conversation with officers.
Earlier, Newsday had seen a group of almost 20 people near the Botanical Gardens being stopped by the police. None was carrying protest placards, but several wore hazmat suits.
Acting Supt Sampooran Kissoonlal of the Port of Spain Division, who was on the scene, spoke to Newsday.
"They had no police permission," he explained. "We are just monitoring.
"They advertised a protest walk. They have no permission to do it. That's why Mr Abdullah was taken off the protest walk.
"Let's put fact to the situation. We are not here to stop anybody saying, 'I don't want to wear the mask,' but what I'm saying is that is the law that exists now, and we have to apply it."
Kissoonlal said other ways exist for people to get their message out.
"We are just asking people to conform with the law, so that everybody is safe at the end of the day."
Newsday asked about Abdullah's fate.
"The police took him off the streets.
"We'll have a conversation and depending on the evidence and thing, we'll see how it works. We'll deal with it...We have to make sure there is that amount of safety, security and conformity to the laws of the land. I'm just here to make sure everybody is safe and everything goes well."
Alleged protesters seemed reluctant to talk.
One man in Islamic wear, around whom attention focused after Abdullah's detention, seemed more intent on an encounter with the police rather than talking to the media.
Minutes later police told Newsday that one Nadeem Mohammed had been given a ticket for not wearing a mask, in breach of covid19 regulations.
Two women in hazmat suits claimed they were only there to exercise, but when questioned by Newsday passionately and lengthily expressed their opposition to vaccinations, saying they instead had put their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Facebook page of the local anti-vaccination group the First Wave Movement said Abdullah was arrested by police for no apparent reason and accused the media of false statements about a protest action, "when in fact Brother Umar's intention was to walk around the Savannah and pray for TT and the current situation."
Abdullah later told Newsday he had been held for one or two hours, but had been treated with respect by the police with whom he had held enlightening talks, and whom he now commended.
"I was briefed on what should be the right procedure for making the necessary application to have a walk.
"They want to give people the opportunity to speak and express concerns, within the ambit of the law. They don't want to clash with citizens.
"I was not charged."
He said the police had begun the process of charging him over the march but had discontinued it, for reasons unknown to him.
He admitted to organising the event.
"I would have sent out invitations to people. I labelled it a 'prayer-walk.' I wanted to show the numbers of people who are dissatisfied with the governance of Trinidad and Tobago."
His gripes included vaccinations, the state of emergency, property tax, and the recent proclamation of parts of the Data Protection Act which he said violated personal privacy.
He complained that the Government has not told businesses to desist from insisting workers get vaccinated, and lamented that some children had experienced adverse reactions.
Abdullah alleged that the Government had relied on the WHO to check vaccine safety, when it should be done by the Ministry of Health's Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division.
On the property tax, he said, "We can't even feed ourselves. Companies charge huge amounts of money to do valuations. Where are you to get this money? Yet there is a charge if you do not get your property valuated. It is very oppressive on the people of TT."
Abdullah also complained that parts of the Data Protection Act had been quietly proclaimed in the parliamentary recess. He believed the act could now allow the Government to access people's private details such as medical records held in public hospitals.
Abdullah said his pending application could result in a march next week.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar told a UNC virtual meeting that recently acting President Christine Kangaloo had agreed to proclaim part of the Data Protection Act (by Legal Notice 220 of 2021) to empower public bodies such as ministries, Cabinet and Parliament to share the personal information of citizens with each other.
She said this information included age, religion, marital status, employment record, and medical details.