Don't use me as an example, Charles tells Phillips

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter

Friday, December 14, 2018

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SPEAKER of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles did not take kindly to Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips using him as an example of someone already detained under a local state of emergency, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Dr Phillips was responding to the opening statement from Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the start of the debate on the states of emergency (SOEs), which are expected to come to an end early next year following the Government's failure to get the necessary votes from the Opposition to make the two-thirds, the majority needed for a further three-month extension.

Dr Phillips said that the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) had sent a team to St James to view the situation with detainees, after the public defender's report to the Internal and External Affairs Committee of the House last month.

He said that the team met with some detainees who felt that their detention has created a stigma in their lives, that since they had been detained they were guilty.

“You understand about detention, Mr Speaker,” Phillips quipped, referring to Charles' detention for 12 months at what was then called “Red Fence” at Up Park Camp, during the 1976 state of emergency called by the administration of Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Charles: Yes, at the hands of the State.

Phillips: Well, if you want to call it that, you can make it into a political football. Be my guest.

Charles: I don't think you should use me as an example, because I was not charged. Not even a statement was taken from me, under your watch, for one year, and I am here, today.

Phillips: Mr Speaker, you make my point exactly. And you make it with such elegance, speaking from your personal experiences, and I am saying there are lessons we should learn from our past experiences.

Charles: You said they are being charged. I wasn't charged.

Phillips: Whatever. We are going to drink a tamarind juice and talk about it.

The Opposition eventually turned down a plea from Prime Minister Holness to support the request from the heads of the security forces for a further three-month extension of the SOEs, which are currently in effect in St James, the St Catherine North Police Division, which includes Spanish Town, and certain sections of downtown Kingston and southern St Andrew.

Twenty-one Opposition MPs voted against extending the SOEs in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, and nine were absent, costing the Government the two-thirds majority it needed for the SOEs to remain constitutional. There are 63 MPs in the House of Representatives, of which the Government would have needed 42 votes to approve the extension motion, but only ended up with its 33 votes.

Phillips told the House that a statement made by Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry about the state of the lock-ups, which house detainees, was critical to his party's decision.

He noted that only four per cent of the detainees were charged with any crime and that tribunals to hear the appeals of detainees were not meeting regularly, pointing out that the one in St Catherine North Police Division had not met for almost one year.

But Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that the Government did everything it could to ensure the protection of the rights of all Jamaicans during the emergency periods, and saw to it that every member of the security forces involved in the operations went through a period of training.

“It was all about protecting the people's rights. Whatever it takes, to ensure that the rights of the citizens are protected, I am the biggest defender of the rights of the people of Jamaica,” the prime minister said.

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