LOOP: The Antigua and Barbuda government is defending the decision by police a year ago to use teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting the mandatory vaccination programme even as the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) reaffirmed its condemnation “in the strongest terms” the government’s “shameful act of attacking peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets”.
A year ago, the police used teargas to break up the demonstration by people who were protesting against a decision made by the government to move towards the vaccination of frontline workers in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The group known as Freedom Fighters for Antigua and Barbuda, had in a statement then claimed that a letter was written to the Commissioner of Police Attlee Rodney, seeking permission – as required under the law, to march on that day.
The group noted that a response was received two days before the protest march, but only after a member of the organisation called the commissioner’s office. In the aftermath of the protest, the police said one person was detained.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Steadroy Benjamin said he is satisfied that the correct procedures were followed a year ago in ending the illegal demonstration.
“I, in particular, as the Minister of Public Safety, am satisfied that the police conducted themselves properly on the day in question and had a report done personally and sent to me and at every stage the police acted responsibly, give the necessary warnings which they ought to have done and carried out their duties as they ought to do in the circumstances on that particular day,” he added.
In a statement Monday marking the first anniversary of the protest, the UPP said it wanted to reaffirm its commitment to respecting the freedom of choice of all Antiguan and Barbudan citizens and residents.
“The government’s actions on that dark day were so reckless, that zero regard was given to the presence of children and the elderly. Further, the attacks were so indiscriminate that hundreds of people, who had not even attended the protest, were tear-gassed in their homes.
“The UPP reiterates its call for a full investigation into the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. The UPP further calls for the immediate dropping of all charges laid against individuals who organised, or participated in, the protest action on August 8th, 2021.”
But Benjamin said in his view “there is no need for any investigation into that matter,” adding “I am totally and completely satisfied that on the day in question, the police…acted with due diligence, lawfully and within the confines of the law.
“There is no need for any investigation whatsoever,” he added.
The opposition party, which is campaigning for the next general election that Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said could be called later this year, said it was giving the assurances that should it be elected to office, it will “pay the two months of docked wages to all government workers who were sent home for exercising their freedom of choice, during the draconian …vaccine mandate”.