JAMAICA-Government comments on reported detention of nationals in Miami by US Coast Guard

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (File Photo)

The Jamaica government Friday said it has become aware of the matter involving four local fishermen who are bringing a case against the United States Coast Guard for alleged maltreatment, following their arrest and detention in 2017 in Haitian waters.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said that it had become aware of the situation “yesterday through social and print media reports.

“We have also seen a video in which, the fishermen concerned, cite experiences of shocking treatment during an extended period of detention that would amount to human rights abuse.”

Earlier this week, international media reports said that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that announced it would be suing the United States Coast Guard on behalf of four Jamaican fishermen who were held for five weeks in 2017 on suspicion of smuggling marijuana.

The reports said that according to the lawsuit, the men, Robert Dexter Weir, Patrick Wayne Ferguson, Luther Fian Patterson, and David Roderick Williams went missing after setting out for sea from the village of half Moon Bay.

However, their quest for tuna and snapper was supposed to last about two days. Then they disappeared, the lawsuit said and five weeks later the men re-emerged in Miami, covered in burns and blisters.

The ACLU claims that Coast Guard officers chained the fishermen up on decks exposed to the elements—even while sailing straight through Hurricane Maria—fed them little, and denied them contact with their loved ones.

When they finally reached a US courtroom, they were never convicted of a drug crime, since the ACLU says no drugs were ever found on the boat; they pleaded guilty to lying to investigators because, according to the suit, their attorney told them it was the fastest way to get home.

The Coast Guard said it had not been served with the complaint and could not comment on ongoing litigation, but said the Coast Guard complies with US and international law and treats detainees humanely.

In the statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said that ‘the allegations are of serious concern… as the rights of Jamaicans at home and abroad are always of paramount importance to the Government of Jamaica.

“We note that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has agreed to provide the men with legal representation and that the matter is now before a court of law in the United States. It is hoped that justice will delivered through that process.

“We are investigating the situation with our Consulate in Miami and other relevant Government agencies as we seek to learn more about the case, but to date have not discovered any record of a complaint having been reported to the Consulate or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade office in Kingston.”

The Ministry said that it was taking the opportunity to remind Jamaicans who travel overseas and experience difficulties that these matters may be reported to the closest Consulate, Embassy or High Commission, or on their return to Jamaica, to the Ministry, adding “we  are here for your assistance”.

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