As we reported on Monday, 43 employees of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML), plus activist Delroy Herrera were held for more than 7 hours at the Queen Street Police Station, Belize City, for their roles in Monday’s spontaneous demonstration in front of City Hall. They were each charged for taking part in an unlawful public meeting, contrary to the Public Meeting (Control) Regulations, and a littering violation which will cost them $500 each. We spoke to Delroy Herrera, the last to be released, and he told us he has no regrets.
“To know that these people are taking lick, it’s a shame to know that the Mayor of Belize City, or the one that is in control of the loitering, all of a sudden now they are enforcing the law here on us. Each person is charged, whether you are or whether you partake in throwing the garbage on the street, each person is charged five hundred dollars. Inactive worker, how could we pay five hundred dollars? Someone who is on the verge of a shotgun in January 2015, how could we pay? And we were told that we only have 15 days to pay this, or in default of that then a hundred and fifty dollars will be charged to us, and thirty dollars per day will be paid in addition from there, we will be summonsed and so forth.”
According to Delroy Herrera the group was “set up” by second-in-command of Eastern Division, who they say trapped them in a blockade on Queen Street, and herded them into the station for processing. But Senior Counsel Said Musa who is sympathetic to the demonstrators believed this was not necessary.
“This is an outrage. This is a terrible situation, outrageous. Why have these people [been] detained? For what? Simply standing up for their rights? Here you have a Mayor who expects these people to work for free, expect these people to pick up the garbage, day in day out, and now threatening them with dismissal, losing their jobs, owing the company a lot of money. So how can the company pay the workers. No man, these people have every right to protest, and the police should never tolerate having them detained for standing up for their rights. This is unacceptable, totally unacceptable.”
The public meeting violation is a summary offence to be tried in the Magistrate’s Court, while the littering violation goes before the Municipal Court, an arm of the Belize City Council.
After hauling in 41 employees of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) on Monday for their role in the spontaneous protest in front of City Hall, police began the work of processing charges. It’s only one charge really: taking part in an illegal gathering contrary to the Public Meeting (Control) Regulations. The snafu, according to attorney representing the workers Audrey Matura-Shepherd, is that police listed all 41 employees on one charge sheet, when no court can hold them.
“We were told that we were to come to court this morning, so that the 41 workers can be arraigned. they all have their names on one charge sheet, being charged for the same offence of participating in an unlawful public meeting. However, I have been calling the Inspector in charge of prosecutions from early, because I wanted to know how this will work out, getting 41 people in a courtroom. She came here, and after an hour, and trying to work out things and whatever meetings she had or calls she made, she just informed me that we have to wait a while, because they’re changing the charge sheet. They’re removing all 41 from one charge sheet, and issuing individual charge sheets, that’s 41 individual charge sheets. That will be time consuming. It’s very difficult, because the workers were told on the initial charge sheet that they were to appear here for nine o’clock. They’re all here obeying that order, but the court process is not working in our favour. And I think at this moment, they should have been knowing what they’re doing from the start.”
Audrey Matura-Shepherd says the delay is another example of the system being unjustly oppressive to poorer citizenry.
“Well, we have to remain here. You have to understand how the process works. They’re on bail. They got police bail, with a commitment to come to court. They’re here in court. Whatever maneuvering goes on behind the scenes, whatever discussion goes on with the Chief Magistrate, the Police, the Prosecutor, whatever, they’re not privy to that. Whatever decisions are made are decisions that, unfortunately, you who are dragged before the Court just have to obey. You just have to wait. It’s a lot of waste of time and resources, resources of the Court, resources of the Police, and even these employees. I mean, these are menial workers, but nonetheless their time is valuable as well. I just think it’s a reflection of a total disregard for people’s rights. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that unfortunately the resources of the nation is focused on oppressing poor people more, rather than using those same resources to go after major criminals. I mean, you saw the case with how COLA cannot get a simple investigation out of the Police against Penner. Yet, we have the resources to go after people who are standing up for their rights, to get their money, and to have a job. That’s how skewed the system is.”
A total of 22 workers were arraigned On Tuesday while the other 19 will be arraigned on Wednesday, starting at 10:00 am.