Cops, protestors clash over Benschop's arrest
Fires lit along Camp Street
By Oscar P. Clarke
March 14, 2001
Battles between police and supporters of controversial television
talk-show host Mark Benschop erupted in the city last night following
his forced removal and arrest outside the Guyana Elections Commission
Police in riot gear erected barricades at several intersections
leading to the Brickdam Station and formed human walls behind them to
prevent entry to the station.
This resulted in fires being started at various points in the city
with members of the Guyana Fire Service rushing to several areas to
Members of Target Special Force were forced to fire shots in the air
at the Camp and Croal streets intersection to disperse crowds of
people who were preventing fire officers from putting out fires at
utility poles in the vicinity.
Business places in the immediate area, including Camp Site, shut down
as police were deployed to clear persons off the streets. Police, in
their struggle to restore order, used loud hailers to order that
persons disperse and go home. By last night, police had extended their
cordons to several parts of the city and seemed to have the situation
Benschop's lawyer, Nigel Hughes accompanied by Benschop's wife,
arrived at the Brickdam station at 6:23 pm to attempt to secure bail,
but left about 25 minutes later having being denied the right to see
Stabroek News later spoke to Hughes who stated that Benschop had been
charged with provoking the peace and inciting and had been ordered
detained until he appears in court today. He said he had attempted to
have him see a doctor for an injury to his arm, but was told that a
doctor had already attended to him.
Earlier, at about 1:30 pm, Hughes said, he was about to secure his
client's release when a directive was given that the television host
be locked up. On that occasion, he stated, the police had admitted
that Benschop did say in a programme yesterday morning that persons
should go to the commission and peacefully protest their inability to
obtain their national identification cards.
Hughes was subsequently able to obtain a writ of habeas corpus signed
by Justice Claudette La Bennett directing that the police produce
Benschop by 1:30 pm today. He further stated that he would be filing a
constitutional motion this morning on his client's behalf.
Following Benschop's arrest and imprisonment at the Brickdam lock-ups
a gathering in excess of 100 persons assembled on the periphery of the
Brickdam lock-ups calling for his release. They chanted slogans
including "Laurie must go" (referring to Commissioner Laurie
Lewis) and "We want Mark".
As dusk approached, barricades were taken to the area and more police
deployed to the scene. Officers asked that the people retreat behind
The deployed ranks subsequently charged the crowd and up to five
persons were held, thrown into a waiting vehicle and taken into the
station. The police retreated briefly, while others donned riot gear
and arms and charged the remaining persons leading to a pelting
assault. This resulted in at least two policemen sustaining injuries.
Three overseas observers from the Guyana Long-Term Observer Group, in
the country to monitor the March 19 polls, who had visited the scene
earlier and spoken with the controversial television host from the
roadway in front of the cells, returned and witnessed the police
action. They made another unsuccessful attempt to see Benschop.
Attempts earlier by prominent religious leader, Bishop Juan Edgehill
to speak to the gathering, were futile as he was verbally abused by
segments of the crowd.
Pockets of persons could be seen up to late last evening engaging the
police in verbal confrontations.
Benschop had been apprehended shortly after 11:30 am, when he arrived
at the commission's Kingston location to spearhead the protest.
Reports say that the talk-show host had just emerged from the eastern
half of Cowan Street when he was accosted by uniformed officers, who
dragged him bodily into a patrol vehicle, but not before dealing him
several blows and kicks. This was evident on Capitol News footage of
the arrest seen by Stabroek News.
Contacted by Stabroek News yesterday on Benschop's arrest, the Police
Public Relations Officer stated that "necessary force" was
used once a person resisted arrest. He said this may have been applied
in Benschop's case.
Benschop had used his nightly television programme on Monday to call
on persons who had not received their ID cards to take their
grievances to the commission's offices and demand a solution. Police
had cordoned off streets leading to the commission's Kingston offices
as a precaution. The roads were blocked at Lamaha and Main streets,
High and Barrack streets, and the eastern and western sides of Cowan
Street at the corner of Fort and Duke streets.
Most of the crowd, numbering approximately 200, stated that they had
gone to the commission's offices to seek answers on the delays in
obtaining their ID cards and reasons why their names were not on the
official list of electors, despite registering.
Security at the commission was noticeably beefed up with several
guards on the outside of the Kingston complex.
The protesters declined to speak to several sections of the media
including Stabroek News.