Benschop, wife and 21 others on unlawful procession charge
Sent on own recognizance
March 16, 2001
Mark Benschop found himself entangled with the law once again when
police slapped a charge on him, his wife Maria, and 21 of their
followers after yet another confrontation in Main Street.
On Wednesday morning, the `Straight Up' host was granted $10,000 bail by Principal Magistrate, Juliet Holder-Allen, after he and police ranks clashed on Tuesday in front of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
However, about five hours later, he returned and assembled in the vicinity of GECOM building, which the Guyana Police Force is alleging is prohibited. Section 5 of the Public Order Act, Chapter 1603, states that persons must first obtain permission from the Chief Officer of Police before they partake in any procession.
Yesterday, before Magistrate Cecil Sullivan, Benschop, Maria, Eon Bamfield, Andre Knights, Delon Marks, Seon Kellman, Vekanand Panday, Claudius Peters, Michelle Caesar, Erika Simon, Glendon Jones, Kenrick Hamilton, Gladwyn Fecker, Selwyn Gills, Romeo Chapman, Malcolm Grimes, Vincent Wills, Shonette Lewis, Noel Jeffrey, Shonell Lashley, Ayana Robertson, Kenisha McCalman and Dawn Sampson all pleaded not guilty to unlawful procession.
Mortimer Codette, lawyer for all of the defendants except the Benschops, told the court his clients were arrested as they were doing business in the vicinity of Main Street.
Describing the situation as "...ucked up", a jibe at one of the PPP/C's rap song political advertisements, he expressed concern that persons might be robbed of their chance to vote if police continued to round them up and throw them into jail. He asked Sullivan not to use bail as a penalty.
In an impassioned presentation, Maria Benschop's attorney Nigel Hughes highlighted the violence the police inflicted on the women at the time of their detention. Referring to some video footage he saw and sources as a basis, he said he understood that no female ranks were present during the women's arrest. Further, he reiterated Codette's call for the magistrate to set the bail low for disgruntled citizens, noting that most of them came from poverty stricken backgrounds and anything over $2,000 (a sum proposed by Codette) would ensure their incarceration until after March 19.
"My statements are not intended to be inflammatory," Hughes continued, pointing out that with the exception of two persons, all the others charged were of one ethnic background.
He claimed that when they were taken to the station, they were denied the right to call their relatives. Hughes described the present times as "dangerous", and said that he had written to the head of the Long-Term Observers Group voicing his concerns.
Hughes also stated it was his understanding that the police were given instructions to arrest persons so as to disenfranchise them.
He reminded that unless an act of Parliament was passed stating otherwise, the people had every right to return to GECOM since it was their constitutional right.
The addresses continued with attorney Basil Williams claiming that his client Mark Benschop was being persecuted because he was "speaking the truth." He urged that the Constitution be upheld since there were no laws barring the NBTV presenter from viewing an activity.
Further, he added, Benschop had been drained of finances after posting bail on every occasion the police dragged him before the court.
Asking that the defendants exercise restraint, Sullivan released them on their own recognizance and ordered that they return to court on April 19.
As word of this decision spread, loud applause went up in the court yard and the large crowd broke down the police cordons surrounding the court house. They jumped in jubilation as Benschop stepped off the court steps and surged forward in an attempt to touch him. Even his raised hand failed to calm them. Although they did not raise him in the air yesterday, as they had done the day before, they followed him to his vehicle, briefly halting traffic.