Natural justice vs. rush to lynching – the police`baton rape’ allegation saga


(Below are two opinion pieces  carried in publications from both sides of the political divide (Kaieteur News and the Guyana Chronicle)  which argue for rationale discourse and respect for natural justice regarding the on-going saga where a remand prisoner claimed to have been sexually assaulted by ranks at the Timehri Police Station)

The Kaieteur News commentary: The allegation that a young man was the victim of a brutal sexual assault while in police custody has gone viral. The reports have led to feelings of outrage in many quarters. But are these reports believable? With the expansive reach of social media networks, the market for the spread of unverified reports is unlimited. This in itself is a danger, because apart from the benefits of mass information, there is the risk of mass deception also.

One has to be very careful when one hears allegations such as those that are being made about sexual assault, especially when all the facts are not known and more especially when these reports are being politicized.

The case was reportedly discussed in the National Assembly yesterday. During that discussion, certain information about the condition for which the young man is being treated by doctors was revealed. This information should not have been provided by the Minister of Health. Not even to the National Assembly; because it is privileged information and should only have been made public in front of an investigative team, tribunal or a court of law.

Because the information was reported on by the media, the public now knows what the doctors at the hospital are treating the young man for. This knowledge will add more controversy to the case.

Long before these medical disclosures were made, however, many persons had already made up their minds about what happened. That was a direct consequence of the story going viral. The faster it spreads, the less some persons seem interested in awaiting the outcome of the investigation launched by the police and the more willing they were to condemn who they felt were responsible.

The injured Colwyn Harding.
The injured Colwyn Harding.

One has to be extremely careful about these allegations. A final judgment should await the facts. If what is being alleged is true, then there is a serious problem with investigations within the Guyana Police Force and the reform process would be unable to correct this problem. If something of this nature can happen within the local police force, more so considering the past experience with a teenager whose genitals were set alight, then reform of the Guyana Police Force may not be good enough.

If what is being alleged is true, it will mean that foreign personnel will have to be recruited to man senior positions within the Guyana Police Force because of the crisis that the incident, if established to be true, would have represented. If true, there has to be sweeping changes at all levels of the hierarchy of the Guyana Police. Instead of reform, what will be needed is a complete revamping and the creation of a completely new force. That is if the allegations are true.

In analyzing the allegations to determine whether a prima facie case exists against ranks of the Guyana Police Force, a number of things need to be taken into consideration.

Firstly, it needs to be determined when the violation took place and whether there were any witnesses. By now the media should have been pursuing this angle and interviewing any witnesses to the alleged sexual assault.

Secondly, it needs to be determined how long after the alleged assault took place was the matter reported and to whom it was reported.

Thirdly, the issue of motive needs to be considered. Is there a motive why the alleged victim would want to implicate any ranks of the Guyana Police Force? This aspect needs to be looked at.

Fourthly, the medical reports need to be examined by whoever is investigating this matter, because it is from these reports that the investigative team will be able to make a determination as to whether the injuries sustained are consistent with the claims that a baton was rammed into the anus of the victim, leading to the rupturing of the intestines.

This is a case with serious implications. If the allegations are found to be truthful, then it has repercussions for the future reform process of the Guyana Police Force. If they are not, then some politicians are going to find themselves facing political fallout. (End)




The Guyana Chronicle commentary: THERE is a growing and dangerous tendency in our society to treat allegations as facts and the truth and this is unfortunately being bolstered and fuelled by some of our media houses which imparts much spin but few hard facts. In this way, these media houses manipulate the minds of people to think in accordance with their agenda-political or otherwise.

We saw it with the shooting incident during the Linden protest with pronouncements on who was responsible for the deaths of protesters. However, the Commission of Inquiry into the incident dispelled most of what was being peddled by some media houses. And obviously being highly dissatisfied with the findings of the Inquiry, futile attempts were made to discredit the work of the distinguished jurists who comprised the Commission.

More recently, an allegation of sodomy against the police by a detainee,Colwyn Harding, while he was in custody at the Timehri Police Station is being treated as the fact and truth, even though there is an ongoing investigation by the Guyana Police Force, which is expected to be completed tomorrow. In addition, doctors at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) are not only livid, but have categorically denied any knowledge of reports appearing in certain sections of the media that a patient, Colwyn Harding, had informed them that he had allegedly been sodomised by a police rank using a baton. The doctors have further denied the following claims: (a) That Harding had been treated in a shoddy manner at the institution; and (b) that the hospital had run out of colostomy bags. In fact, the doctors said Harding had been using colostomy bags from the first day of his hospitalisation.

That apart, the doctors deemed it unprofessional to be discussing a patient’s condition without that patient’s prior approval; and discussing such a matter with the media compounds the unprofessionalism of these media entities.

Interestingly, none of these media houses has bothered to deal with the issue of why has this allegation surfaced one month after the alleged incident.

It is evident that any allegation which has potential ammunition for launching a scathing attack on the government is portrayed as the fact and the truth. This is evident in the Linden incident, as well as several other incidents of the past, and the latest one. We can see clearly from these two incidents alone that certain media houses, and individuals as well, have appointed themselves as “judge, jury and executioner.”

No one would disagree that if the allegation is proven to be true those who are culpable must be dealt with condignly in accordance with the law. However, until then no one should pass judgement or sentencing on anyone.

The media in any society have a very important role in disseminating information and educating people and therefore it must at all times display responsibility and professionalism in discharging this role. We have seen how the failure by some media houses to abide by these sacred journalistic principles has resulted in human tragedies such as the Rwanda genocide and elsewhere.

American humorist and writer, Finley Peter Dunne, (1867-1936) must have foreseen what would happen in Guyana when he wrote under the pseudonym Dooley about the power of newspapers: “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the ministry, controls the legislature, baptises the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts him afterward.”

Paranjpy Guha Thakurta in his article in The Asian Age of December last year: “So Much Spin, So few facts” puts it succinctly: “The facts are, obviously, far more nuanced. The media, far from afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, is more often than not excessively preoccupied[with] maximising its profits by selling “news” in the way soap, toothpaste and potato chips are marketed. However, unlike the norms and rules that operate in markets for most products and services, the intensification of competition among newspapers and television channels does not necessarily or automatically lead to an improvement in standards or quality.”

He adds: “The rise of the Internet and the availability of huge volumes of ‘free’ information has acted as a double-whammy on media companies and made them even more desperate to grab eyeballs.”

The only difference in Guyana is that certain media houses are not only in pursuit of profits by grabbing eyeballs, they are also involved in political subversion and sabotage through misinformation, distortion of truth and blatant lies under the direction of their political masters and therefore would never subscribe to the principle that allegations must remain allegations until proven otherwise. (End)




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