Belmopan, Wed. Sept. 22, 2021– For the most part, members of the Mennonite community have been hesitant to comply with Covid-19 regulations which require mask-wearing, social distancing, and the avoidance of large gatherings. A recent announcement that, starting October 1, persons seeking to enter public buildings must present proof of accination or a negative Covid-19 test, however, has apparently stirred segments of that community to take more aggressive action in opposition to Covid-19-related measures put in place by GOB. It has been reported that a considerable number of Mennonites are among the 200 citizens of the country who have secured the legal representation of attorneys Arthur Saldivar and Richard “Dickie” Bradley as they seek to mount a legal challenge against GoB’s measures. What previously consisted mainly of individual objections to government’s intrusion into their private lives has become a public expression by a group of Mennonites of their resistance to GoB’s rules. A large group of Mennonites are now part of what is being called the “Free Belize” movement, and in the past week they have been expressing their resistance by organizing motorcades, in which long rows of vehicles flying black flags have been proceeding through Belize’s streets.
On Saturday, long lines of trucks coming from the Orange Walk, Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo districts were intercepted at police checkpoints set up at Mile 31 on the George Price Highway and at the Tower Hill Bridge. The 4×4’s were part of a so-called “Freedom Drive” into Belize City, which was an effort, according to the Mennonites who are part of the “Free Belize” movement, to “take a stand for freedom”. Members of the group had reportedly told other Mennonites that “the time to stand up is now,” but the effort to publicly display their resistance in Belize City was thwarted by the Police Department, which had been anticipating their entry into the city and blocked the procession on both the western and northern highways.
Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, told local reporters, “These persons have not even applied for a permit to demonstrate, so what we did on Saturday morning, anticipating that there may be defiance to our request, we set up checkpoints at the Tower Hill Bridge and at Mile 31 on the George Price Highway to await those persons who we anticipate will have left from the south, west and the north to go into Belize City from reaching the city … and those persons in those motorcades were disallowed from going any further.”
He went on to state, “Again, we know that Belize City is the epicenter of Covid-19 right now. Most of the cases we are seeing daily emanates from Belize City, and so to have such a large gathering in Belize City at this time is surely nonsensical and putting the lives of innocent people at risk, and so it is with that spirit that we prevented those persons from entering the city and I also gave instructions to Mr. Rosado who was on the grounds in Belize City. I was on the George Price Highway and Mr. Vidal was in Orange Walk.”
Attorney Arthur Saldivar, who, as previously mentioned, is representing a number of the Mennonites who will be challenging GoB’s recent measures in court, told local media that the trucks were stopped, and persons were photographed and asked for their identification cards, which he states is yet another violation of their rights. Some of those who were stopped have thus made it a point to visit the Ministry of National Security and file complaints at the Professional Standards Branch.
“On Saturday last, a number of persons were coming down to Belize City in their vehicles and they were stopped on the road. Now it appears to me and to others that these Covid protocols have actually fostered a sense of lawlessness amongst the law enforcers in the sense that they believe it is within their right, purview to violate the rights of Belizeans despite not having lawful authority to do so. So these persons that have come to the Ministry came particularly to make their report at the Professional Standards and Bureau Branch to have their complaints be officially lodged with a view to looking to further legal applications thereafter,” Saldivar explained.
Saldivar stressed that his clients have the right to visit any location in the country despite what flag they want to carry and what beliefs they have. He said that “not only were they stopped, but they were required to produce their identification – their licenses, those IDs were photographed, in many cases they themselves were photographed by the police and it is the view of these persons that they were being profiled.”