TOWER HILL, Orange Walk District, Thurs. Sept. 7, 2017–Belizeans across the length and breadth of the nation were stunned after they heard of, or saw the shocking display of excessive police force pointedly used on KREM Radio/TV’s stellar news editor, Marisol Amaya, at the Tower Hill Bridge in Orange Walk yesterday.
Marisol, who was covering an event, a “protest march against government corruption” organized by the People’s United Party, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, was grabbed from behind, while doing an interview, and thrown to the ground by Inspector Aaron Gamboa, the Officer Commanding the Special Patrol Unit (SPU).
While she was on the ground, another male officer of the SPU, identified as Nicholas Gomez, made an attempt to hit the journalist with his baton. Fortunately, Amaya’s colleague from CTV3, Fernando Pier Sanchez, heroically stuck out his hand, thereby saving her from the blow.
Instead of Gomez’s baton hitting Amaya in the head or body, it landed on Sanchez’s arm, which remains swollen as a result of the hit.
After Gamboa threw Amaya to the ground, other SPU officers then forcibly lifted and dragged her off the road. A medico-legal form completed today has described injuries received by the KREM Radio and TV news editor as harm.
Officers on duty also manhandled some of the protesters, including Opposition Leader John Briceño, throwing them to the pavement. Officers indiscriminately fired over two dozen canisters of tear gas into the crowd. A thick fog covered the Tower Hill Bridge, forcing supporters of the People’s United Party (PUP), who had blocked access to the road, to disperse.
SPU police were called to the Toll Bridge by Assistant Commissioner of Police Edward Broaster, who had been unsuccessful in negotiating with Briceño to end the PUP’s hour-long blockade.
When asked today if the force applied to Amaya was excessive, Minister of State for police, Elodio Aragon, at a press conference held today in Belize City, expressed the view that his officers acted well within reason.
“When you’re in these situations … the police have asked you to move and you need to obey the law … The police are there to enforce the law, and if they ask you to move you should move,” he said.
Aragon did not offer comment on the stark fact that Amaya was not there to participate in the demonstration, but to do her job as a member of the media in covering the demonstration. She, at no time, was a part of the demonstration.
Aragon continued: “People have gathered illegally, which is wrong in the first instance, and they refuse to listen to the police giving them a lawful command to move and clear the road. The police, at one point or the other, will have to move you. The police department has had to move representatives from the House of Representatives when they do not want to comply with what is a rightful order. The police had a job to do and the police did what it had to do.”
Again, Aragon did not say why his officers had to attack a member of the media — to wit, singling out Amaya as a representative of Kremandala.
ACP Broaster was asked why the same force applied to Amaya and PUP protesters who gathered illegally was not applied to UDP supporters who gathered, without a permit, in support of embattled former Minister of Lands and former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega earlier at his home in Orange Walk Town.
The PUP had not interacted with the UDP supporters. Instead, they had gathered at the Central Park for a short rally before moving to the Tower Hill Bridge.
According to Broaster, however, the UDP supporters left after they were ordered to leave, because they had no permit to gather there. However, Amandala was on the scene and we noted that they did not leave immediately. As a matter of fact, they left more than an hour later after greeting Vega.
The management and staff of KREM TV, KREM Radio and Amandala have today issued a statement condemning the assault of their senior news anchor.
“After careful review of the videos and interviews with relevant witnesses, the KREMANDALA family is sure and satisfied that the violence against our Editor was totally unwarranted and is indicative of the violence experienced by women on a daily basis in Belize,” declared the statement.
“Amaya was the only female congregated around a political leader being interviewed, along with other male media members and party supporters, when she was specifically grabbed from behind by no other than the officer commanding the Special Patrol Unit, Inspector Aaron Gamboa, who dragged her off and indecently grappled her in the process,” the statement went on to note.
The statement concluded: “KREMANDALA is calling on all media workers and all independent -minded media houses to stand against this attack and to join in denouncing this dangerous precedent that is being established by the government and the security forces they command.”
According to the manager of KREM Radio, Michael Hyde, he viewed the assault directed at Amaya as an assault against the independent media, against women in particular, and against the freedom enjoyed by journalists to freely move around and cover any newsworthy item in Belize.
The PUP’s United Women’s Group (UWG) has today issued a statement condemning the violent assault against Amaya.
Senator Valerie Woods, a member of the UWG, stated that, “the freedom of the media and its access to information is critical to a healthy democracy. The force used against Ms. Amaya was despicable and the approach used by the Police Department against the media yesterday was not necessary. The protest was, by all accounts, a peaceful one and the authorities’ response and mistreatment of Belizeans is unacceptable.”
The statement continued: “Belizeans have every right under the fundamental rights and freedoms in our Constitution to protest corruption, abuse of power and any other issues of public importance. The media must be allowed to cover those protests without interference, intimidation, acts of repression, harm or injury to themselves and without being bullied by the police forces of this country.”
Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister of Police, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, who is well-known for his penchant for “putting his foot in his mouth,” told the media today, in an attempt to down-play the terrible, shameful behavior of his police officers, that the media “enjoyed” the interaction with the police.
Amaya has since retained the services of attorney Audrey Matura. Today, Amaya filed an official report to the police station and has requested court action. She also filed a complaint to the Professional Standards Branch of the Police Department. We understand that she is exploring a civil claim as well.
This is not the first time that Marisol Amaya has been the target of orders issued to law enforcement personnel by members of the Dean Barrow administration. In May, she was attacked in the chambers of the National Assembly by UDP flunky and Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives, Brian “Yellowman” Audinett.