The Kaieteur News, one of Guyana's daily newspapers, is notorious for publishing explicit front-page photographs of crime scenes and murder victims, an editorial policy that has roused controversy in the past. But the gruesome photo and accompanying report that led the paper's edition of Saturday 31 October, 2009, triggered widespread outrage not at the Kaieteur News editors but at the Guyana Police Force:
In what may be one of the worst cases of police brutality, ranks from the Leonora Police Station have been accused of setting a 14-year-old boy’s genitals alight while questioning him about the murder of former Region Three Vice Chairman, Ramnauth Bisram.
Kaieteur News confirmed the report yesterday after obtaining graphic photographs of the severely burnt lad.
The teen has been in custody since Tuesday and his parents, Doodnauth Jaikarran and Shirley Thomas, allege that ranks had them going from one police station to the next without disclosing his whereabouts….
It is unclear whether the teen is still being considered a suspect or whether he has received any medical treatment for what appeared to be severe burns to his genitals, midriff and upper thighs.
The photograph of the teenager's injuries was reproduced at several blogs and websites, including Propaganda Press [warning: this link leads to a graphic image that some readers may find disturbing].
Many Guyanese citizens, including bloggers, reacted with shock and anger. Attorney Gino Persaud reported in his blog Freedom Under the Law that he was one of two dozen lawyers at a “spontaneous gathering” who issued a public statement “to register their outrage at this latest atrocity”. After quoting relevant sections of the Guyana constitution, the attorneys stated:
We the undersigned wish to condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture of a minor and for a matter of fact any other person while in custody by members of the Guyana Police Force.
We wish to record our unreserved condemnation of the Guyana Police Force of their refusal to permit the minor access to a legal advisor of his choice after his detention by the Guyana Police Force.
Journalist Imran Khan also posted the lawyers’ statement on his blog, and proposed that concerned Guyanese use Twitter and Facebook “to keep the torture issue on the front burner”. On 1 November via Twitter (username: mediaimran), he issued this plea:
Please GYnese tweeters, keep #GuyanaPoliceTorture on the agenda. Post once per day with your thoughts.views
Other Guyanese used Twitter to share breaking news about the case, and information about other police brutality cases, introducing the #TortureInGuyana hashtag. On the afternoon of 31 October, Demerara Waves (username: demwaves) reported: “police call beating of man and setting ablaze genitals of 14 yr old ‘excessive use of force'. two investigating ranks arrested for offence.” Imran Khan noted that “This is not the first time a child has been allegedly tortured by police”, linking to a post at the Thoughts of a Minibus Traveller blog which stated:
This is the second report of a child being tortured while in police custody. There was another report in Region 6 of another child who had been brutalised in police custody and his lawyer had made several attempts to seek justice.
The condemnations of police brutality seem not to work when sections of the society believe that it is okay for the police to behave this way.
Following the Kaieteur News report, the teenager was released from police custody and taken to hospital for treatment. An article published in the Stabroek News on 1 November gathered dozens of readers’ comments. Sand Hurst First wrote:
The government continues to say they do not condone torture yet still the citizens are crying out constantly of being tortured by either ranks of the Guyana Defense Force or the Police Force and nothing is and will be done to stop it.
YouTube user arinton99 assembled press photographs to create a video montage called Torture of Teenager in Guyana [warning: this link leads to graphic images], which includes a statement condemning Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo:
The president of Guyana has always been silent on these issues. He calls it “ruffing up”. As you can see its more than that. Its called inhumane human right abuse. Jagdeo please stop the dictatorship of your rule
On the morning of Monday 2 November, journalist Nazima Raghubir used Twitter (username: nazrag) to report a press conference held by police commissioner Henry Greene. She began: “Greene says that the entire Force is being castigated for what a few ranks did. (torture of boy)”; followed by “Commissioner Greene says police must have ‘good and sufficient reason’ to use violence against a prisoner.” Lloyda Garrett (username: craziebutiful) responded: “Ask the commissioner if there have been other cases that can fit into #TortureInGuyana and give him an example…see what he says”. Michael Leonard (username: xcessi) also weighed in: “we need more than scapegoats…we need a reform of the entire police force.” He added: “these seemingly isolated incidents are part of a general breakdown of the structure and integrity of the force.”
Horrible, and requiring serious intervention, serious enough that the government of Guyana should be called to publicly answer before the full Caricom heads of Government and/or the Caribbean Court of Justice…
Guyana’s police need to be publicly investigated and reformed from top to bottom, similar to Jamaica’s [and maybe others too]. A full formal regional commission needs to be empanelled to do this — the police systems in the region are similar enough that if there is that big of a hole in the Guyana system, we had better be concerned from Belize to Trinidad as well.
The power of the sword is given to government to defend the public civil peace with justice, not to torture 14 yo boys like this.