Op-Ed: Political victimization perpetuates when people remain silent

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Below is an opinion piece by former Government Minister Dr Lesile Ramsammy: 

Former Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy

I stand with Dr Ashni Singh, I stand with Winston Brassington, I stand with all those who are being victimized, I stand against political victimization. I reject the policy of belittling political opponents. I will not let apathy be my solace. I will raise my voice to say unequivocally, political victimization is wrong.

There can be no dispute, no vacillation, APNU+AFC is on a mission to harass, intimidate, embarrass, humiliate and victimize their political opponents and any citizen who dares to stand up and speak out. The charges of public misconduct against Dr Ashni Singh and Winston Brassington, two dedicated and distinguished Guyanese public servants, are appalling, disgusting and nauseating. Parading them in handcuffs to dehumanize is the stuff of petty despots. Whatever may be our differences, whatever our political affiliation, our country’s freedom is far more precious than blind loyalty to a group of persons who blatantly disregard the civil liberties of citizens. We must stand up, we must speak out. Our rage must be evident, loud and unbending.

Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant Pastor in Germany emerged as a formidable public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in various concentration camps. He believed that decent Germans, in particular, the leaders of the Protestant churches, had been complicit  through their silence in the NAZI imprisonment, prosecution and murders and genocide of people. He wrote these famous words: First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemoller’s words were a lyrical manifestation of the evils of apathy, arguing that the only way to stop evil is for the moral connectedness of people. Like it was during those brutal NAZI days in Germany, so it is today in Guyana, no time for decent people to opt for silence. The right thing to do now is to band together in collective rage.

While President Granger and his Cabinet smiled with wicked glee as Dr Ashni Singh and Winston Brassington were handcuffed and paraded through the prisoner’s chute, even after they had voluntarily entered the courtroom, clearly intending to embarrass, humiliate and dehumanize them, the majority of Guyanese people responded with absolute rage. Far from humiliating these distinguished Guyanese public servants, the standings of Ashni and Winston were elevated among their sisters and brothers. Granger and APNU+AFC took joy in treating Ashni Singh and Brassington as hardcore criminals, but in the eyes of a majority of Guyanese, they were heroes, holding high the badge of honor and courage.

They are criminally charged for serving their country well, for doing their jobs. They are not charged for stealing any money or for gaining any benefits. This the prosecution has made clear. They are charged for public misconduct, APNU+AFC claiming they could have sold government properties for higher prices. If what they are charged with has any legitimacy, there are ministers in the present Cabinet even more guilty of public misconduct.

Indeed, if these charges have any legitimacy, Carl Greenidge should be handcuffed and jailed. One example suffices here. Under Greenidge’s tenure, Demerara Woods was sold to Lord Beaverbrook, in February 1991 for £9.7 million. He also negotiated and obtained a 50-year lease for 1.1 million acres of rain forest. Just two months later, in April 1991, he sold his interests to United Dutch Company for £61 million worth of equity in that firm. The new entity was re-named Demerara Timbers Ltd. Even though Beaverbrook had up to mid-1992 not finished paying the Guyana government for Demerara Woods, he merged the enterprise into the giant United Dutch Company. This latter company took control of Demerara Timbers of which Beaverbrook remained a major shareholder. By 1992, United Dutch valued Demerara Timbers at £74 million!…The rainforest concession alone was estimated at between US$160 million to US$206 million.

Between 1992 and 1997, Cheddi Jagan was under intense pressure to scrutinize transactions like the Demerara Woods sale. It was only one of a long list of questionable and obviously corrupt deals that also included the sale of GTT. But Cheddi insisted that we must not follow the example of pettiness and political victimization. He agreed there were pressing concerns and valid reasons to hold his opponents accountable. But his view was that we must turn to a new page, focus on economic and social welfare needs of our people, build a fee, democratic state and reduce poverty.

Even for those who may still be strong supporters of APNU+AFC, it is time to draw a line and reject political victimization. For while today is for people like Ashni Singh and others, we do not know whose turn it might be tomorrow. Apathy might seem like a safe thing to many, but apathy only provides encouragement for our tormenters. Remember, evil is not simply because there are evil people, but mostly because good people remain silent.

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