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G.S.U. invasion of Kremandala compound represents a failure of the state to protect the media’s rights

To whom it may concern,

We hope that this letter finds you well.
Our organization Kremandala— made up of Amandala Newspaper, Krem Television and Krem Radio, all located at 3304 Partridge Street— writes to you to alert you to events that transpired on Monday, the 30th of October, 2017. We believe that the actions carried out by members of the Belize Police Department, in particular the Gang Suppression Unit (G.S.U.), represent a violation by the state of our rights as an independent media house.

Kremandala also connects Sunday’s events to others over the past 3 years, outlining specific moments that have highlighted the dangerous conditions in which journalists and activists live in this country. Through this letter we seek to bring the reality of the failures of the state of Belize to protect the rights of journalists to the attention of those dedicated to defending peace and popular rights.
We are also specifically seeking legal guidance to ensure the safety of our team, recognizing that the state has evidenced no intention of assuring the safety of those who take up the profession of reporting on and responding to rights’ violations.

On Monday, October 30, 2017 at approximately 9:22 a.m., the G.S.U. arrived at the Kremandala compound located at 3304 Partridge Street in Belize City. We have two gates, a car entrance and a pedestrian gate, both of which are administered according to internal guidelines, according to the security guard.

The security guard on duty explained that the G.S.U. got out of their vehicle, came to the gate of the compound fully-uniformed and on foot. They then entered the compound without the express consent of the security guard or of the owners of the property. When the owner was informed of their presence on the property, he immediately came to where the G.S.U. officers were in the yard near the entrance. One of the officers requested his audience in a private meeting in the office in one of the Kremandala buildings; he declined the request. The G.S.U. officers promptly left. To reiterate: they had not been invited onto the property and had not received permission from the owners. They also did not have a warrant to search 3304 Partridge Street.

The practice of G.S.U. arriving at a place of journalistic business without a warrant expecting the staff to respond, is bizarre and seems to defy basic rights that ensure that journalists can carry out their work; work that can often put them at odds with a repressive state.
The Context

Saturday November 28, 2015: rough handling of one of our journalists, YaYa Marin Coleman, by members of the Belize Police Department/Gang Suppression Unit, while in her capacity as an activist, while she peacefully protested. She was held by multiple officers, choked, dragged and handled roughly. She is a Black woman; part of identity groups that are targeted groups, particularly regarding state and state-sanctioned violence. (Note the State Report on ICCPR, the work of the Belize Coalition for the Human Rights of African Descendants, the Women’s Department and Commission and, generally, groups concerned with gendered and/or racialized — particularly anti-Black — violence).

Friday August 26, 2016: verbal threats and physical violence by a member of the government in the House of Representatives, immediately following a government proceeding, of a journalist and director.

Wednesday May 17, 2017: rough handling of one of our journalists and directors while she performed her professional duties. Note: she was singled out from other reporters. Note: the assaulted is a woman, born to an immigrant family and is therefore part of identity groups that are targeted by state and state-sanctioned violence.

The above are all acts for which there were no formal reparations: no formal apology was issued, no restitution was determined, and no change was made to state policy or practice.

There have been many other acts of aggression carried out against journalists. The trend of not reporting them to the state institutions is due to the fear of state involvement and therefore state retaliation. These include threats, menacing phone calls (?), police sitting in cars with all lights turned off near journalist’s home, journalists being told harshly and at times explicitly to stop their work, particularly when reporting on state violations: including when filming the frequent stopping and searching of young poor Black and Indigenous people, the constant patrolling with what is perceived as a threatening demeanor and not for protection.

The worst violations
Monday July 6, 2015: Kareem Clarke, a 27-year-old star journalist with our newspaper, often working collaboratively with our television and radio news team, as well as with our media house reporters, was murdered. The pursuing investigation that resulted in the arrest of a person who remains on remand, was slow; video evidence was available but not investigated in a timely manner; the police and state actors were quick to attribute the murder of Mr. Clarke to “senseless violence” attempting to erase any particularities of his murder — which were inherent considering his profession — because of his race, class and gender.

Government officials and other media houses [maybe, even we? Except “Political Murder?”] worked, intentionally or not, to silence any investigation that would reveal motive behind Mr. Clarke’s murder as one related to his work to highlight issues of concern to the working poor, or to his employment particularly with the Kremandala media house known for its criticism of the state, and particularly the neoliberal policies espoused by the political party of the head of government.

”major stories on the Penner Passport Scandal and the troubles of the cañeros in northern Belize, in addition to the usual beats of crime and politics from across the length and breadth of Belize.”

Thursday October 12, 2017: Mr. Albert Cattouse, his frequent collaborative work with Kremandala, meetings held. All of these violations have taken place in societal conditions in which journalists and activists live with immense insecurity due to state failures to complete their duty of guaranteeing life and peace (more police is not the solution). Along with outright acts of aggression by state actors, a culture of silencing concern and inadequate investigation (Note: the head of government’s recent declaration that the murder of Mr. Cattouse was “[in no way politically motivated]” despite the well-articulated concerns of his family and the climate in which activists live). Also, complete impunity – the murders of Kareem Clarke, of Julian Cho, Mr. Albert Cattouse have not been satisfactorily investigated.

(Suggestion also to contact MLA and TAA; COFADEH, Bertha Oliva (who knew a founder of HRCB I believe); Pasos de Animal Grandes, Dina Meza; COPINH and OFRANEH as organizations; Radio Progreso- all folks Y has met and have some kind of knowledge of/relationship with Kremandala)

Pambana Bassett

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