The death of Mr Shafeek

Stabroek News
September 16, 2000

According to a police press release, Mr Mohammed Shafeek, a fisherman from Canal Number One, West Bank Demerara, was arrested at Stabroek Market early on Saturday morning, September 2, for loitering under the influence of alcohol. He was taken to the Brickdam lock-ups where he died at some point before his relatives arrived to collect him on the morning of Monday, September 4.

Any death in police custody is a cause for public concern, and prima facie, there is a clear case for the setting up of an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr Shafeek's demise. At a press briefing last Wednesday, however, the Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj told reporters that he was satisfied that the police could conduct a credible investigation, and that there had been many previous cases where officers had been taken before the courts and convictions had been obtained in the wake of investigations by the force.

The fact that in the past officers have been placed before the courts following police investigations is no argument for not holding an independent inquiry now. And nor is it an argument for not setting up an independent body to investigate all complaints against the GPF by members of the public. What citizens remember is the number of cases where police investigations into allegedly illegal killings involving members of the force did not result in anyone being placed before the courts.

As far as this particular matter is concerned, the Minister told the media that based on a preliminary report there was "a distinct possibility" that Mr Shafeek had been killed by fellow prisoners while in the lock-ups. The post mortem report, he said, stated that the victim had a fractured skull and neck, and had not indicated any marks of physical violence on the body.

Well, perhaps the Minister should read the autopsy report again. This newspaper did see a copy, and published some of its contents in our Thursday edition. We reported that the pathologist's notes revealed that there had been numerous injuries to almost every region of the body, and quoting directly, we listed those injuries. In addition, the public was treated on television newscasts to some grim photographs of the multiple abrasions sustained by Mr Shafeek.

Furthermore, a Guyana Human Rights Association press release said that passers-by had told Mr Shafeek's relatives that he had already been beaten up when he was taken to the Brickdam Police Station. Let us suppose that the death is, as the Minister has suggested, to be laid at the door of fellow prisoners. The very least that can be said about this scenario is that there needs to be an independent investigation as to how persons in police custody could inflict such grievous injuries on a fellow inmate without them being aware of what was going on.

But supposing that that is not the correct explanation - and citizens are not satisfied that it is - then the GPF cannot investigate the case in a manner which would reassure the public. Apart from anything else, witnesses like those who allegedly saw Mr Shafeek's condition prior to being incarcerated at Brickdam, will be afraid to give evidence to a policeman. The Minister must recognize that public confidence in the force is extremely low, and a police investigation in this instance will do nothing to enhance that confidence.

What is the Minister so nervous about? If the GPF has nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear from an independent inquiry. And if they do have something to hide, then there definitely should be an independent inquiry. The public is waiting to see what Minister Gajraj does now.

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