Sunday 5 April, 2020

Opposition blasts Gov’t members for vote against detention hearings

Lisa Hanna

Lisa Hanna

“A dark day in the history of the Jamaican Parliament,” is how Opposition members of Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee have described a partisan vote by Government members on Tuesday, which effectively blocks detainees under the ongoing states of emergency (SOE) from appearing before the committee.

The vote also means that families of detainees will also be prevented from appearing before the committee to detail their experiences while in lock-up.

Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) members of the committee had made the case for the detainees to be invited to provide first-hand knowledge of the conditions in the lock-ups while they were detained, sometimes for extended periods.

The suggestion was made after Public Defender, Arlene Harrison-Henry, presented a damning report of the conditions being faced by detainees in the SOE lock-ups, particularly in St James.

The oversight committee had been looking at the operation of the SOEs in St James, the St Catherine North Police Division and sections of the Corporate Area since last week. On Tuesday, the public defender appeared before the committee and stood by her findings.

Opposition MPs argued that having consistently voted to extend the SOEs since the first one was imposed in St James in January, it is only fitting that the persons whose lives are being impacted by the emergency measure be asked to appear before the committee.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for St Ann South East, Lisa Hanna, said former detainees or their family members, as well as representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), should be asked to appear.

Leslie Campbell

Government MP, Leslie Campbell, in turn asked what purpose would be served by inviting detainees, since the committee already had the benefit of the public defender’s report. Campbell suggested there was mischief afoot, to which Hanna took exception.

In the end, the four Government members voted ‘no’, while the three Opposition members voted ‘yes’ on the question of inviting the detainees and other persons to appears before the committee.

Opposition members described the vote as “one of the darkest days in the history of the Jamaican Parliament".

"This has effectively shut the door in the faces of the detainees and their families, denying them the opportunity to give a first-hand narrative of their detention experience and the conditions existing in the detention centres," said Hanna in a statement on Tuesday evening.

While the detainees were denied, the committee agreed that the police should be invited to the next sitting in January 2019.

Meanwhile, Hanna also spoke to whether the $300 that is provided by the Government was enough to provide detainees with three meals per day, a situation which she said many of them may be unfamiliar with. A breakdown of the $300 shows that $80 is spent for breakfast, $130 for lunch and $90 for supper.

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