Umar Abdullah, one of the organisers of Sunday’s march, which garnered hundreds of followers and ended with police intervention, has said he is collating footage from the event to present to the UN.
Speaking to Newsday by phone on Monday night, Abdullah said, “We’re going to engage the UN and indicate to them that this was a violation of human rights in TT.”
Abdullah said he was released from custody around 6 pm on Monday where he was charged with leading an illegal march without permission.
Supt Sampooran Kissoonlal of the Port of Spain Division told Newsday on Monday 12 people, including Abdullah, were detained.
Abdullah, leader of the First Wave Movement, said he organised the march with 104.7 fm radio show The Ground Report.
Hundreds gathered on Sunday morning at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, opposite Victoria Avenue, to protest the government’s handling of the covid19 pandemic, including the Prime Minister’s vaccination policy for government workers
He said the event was an extension of another rally at the same place on November 30, 2020, when 30 people, Abdullah included, were detained.
He said Sunday’s event was named Push Back Two: The Awakening.
“The intention was to get people out again who represented the many issues affecting the people of TT. It was never an anti-vax gathering. Just people coming to ventilate issues against government policies.”
He said the issues people wished to highlight included the government’s failure to recognise the side effects and adverse reactions of the covid19 vaccines and allowing people to have the freedom of choice to decide whether to take them.
He said the vaccine policy implemented by the Prime Minister for government workers has caused many people to lose their jobs.
“It is destroying the family structure and causing segregation in society.”
While many of the protesters left soon after the march, some stayed, defying police warnings to abide by covid19 regulations.
At around 2 pm, after several attempts to disperse the large crowd, police began detaining protesters and threw several tear-gas canisters to control the crowd, which had become hostile to the police presence. The Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB), otherwise known as the Riot Squad, were called in.
Abdullah said he had received reports that rubber bullets were also used on the crowd, and also that the GEB intervened because missiles were thrown at police.
“That is a lie,” he said. “No missiles were thrown at police.”
Abdullah also said he was arrested before the tear gas was used.
He said nevertheless Kissoonlal and the officers were accommodating.
“Hats off to the police under the guidance of Kissoonlal. I think he was accommodating and used his discretion.”
Abdullah said he e-mailed acting Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob a letter requesting permission to use the Savannah, but the e-mail bounced back.
He said he then sent a WhatsApp message to Kissoonlal and asked him to ensure the letter was delivered to Jacob, but Kissoonlal said he could not do that.
He said had Kissoonlal told him beforehand the march had not been approved, he would not have been there.
“I would have informed membership that it was not approved. But when the crowd came, (the police) came to tell us it was not approved. What kind of policing is that?”
Jacob said an application needs to be made.
“Other than the normal laws, we’re also dealing with covid19 regulations and when violating those regulations, the police will take the necessary action.”
Many in the public have been quick to highlight Abdullah’s continued trend of defiance against the government. In 2018, footage of Abdullah in an interview with National Geographic aired during a travel series called Chain of Command, which highlighted civil unrest and fundamentalism around the world.
In it, Abdullah distributed propaganda material and encouraged young Muslims to leave TT and fight for the Islamic extremist group ISIS.
Interviewed in January 2018 by Newsday, however, he denounced his involvement with the group, and said he has “come a long way from that kind of understanding.”
He also expressed interest in working alongside the government to prevent nationals from joining ISIS.
But in March that year, Abdullah was blocked from attending a meeting between the Prime Minister and Muslim leaders. Then Minister of National Security Stuart Young said at the time that Abdullah was not invited because of his connections to the Islamic State.