THOSE wishing to protest outside the Parliament building on the Port of Spain Waterfront must seek permission from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
This was the decree of Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, following the arrest yesterday afternoon of marijuana activist Nazma Muller, who has been charged with using obscene language in a public place.
Muller, head of the Caribbean Collective for Justice, is now raising concerns over the manner in which she was reprimanded and later treated at the Central Police Station on St Vincent Street.
Muller was part of a small protest, which the group has engaged in before, calling for the decriminalisation of marijuana and for those serving time over small amounts of the plant to be freed.
The protest began around noon, with Muller holding a placard that read, on one side, “Honk your horn for the herb” and on the other, “Free the ganja”.
Some 45 minutes into the protest, which was to end at 3 p.m., Muller was approached by a police officer and warned that the placard was encouraging drivers on Wrightson Road to sound their horns, thereby causing noise to be made outside the Parliament.
She was also told she could not protest outside the Parliament, to which she objected.
Muller, after being questioned as to her name, address and some general details, then turned the sign around to “free the ganja”.
As the police officer walked away from the scene, Muller said, “Free the f**king ganja.”
This caused the policeman to return and accost Muller, who was taken to Parliament’s main entrance and searched by a woman police officer. She was also handcuffed.
No water, held for hours
Muller has objected, however, to having been “dragged” by a male officer and said she was not told she was being arrested.
She was held in place at the Parliament entrance for close to an hour before being taken to Central Police Station, where she remained until just after 6 p.m.
Muller said she was concerned about the manner in which the incident was handled and some of the comments directed at her during her stay in the station.
She said information was not forthcoming, she was not given water and was not told until late evening that she could access bail via the station, in the sum of $500.
Instead, Muller said she overheard, on several occasions, that she could be left to spend the weekend in a cell.
Muller said she was unable to access her lawyer and used the phone call allowed to prisoners—as she claimed to have been called—to ask the principal of her son’s school to look after the boy.
The activist said she was asked whether someone would be posting bail for her, to which she replied she did not at the time have someone to do so.
Muller said she was told she would have to spend the weekend in jail, but was informed by an officer, hours later, of access to station bail.
Griffith told the Express via telephone, however, that lawfulness and the safety of citizens—including protesters—was paramount, and the police had to be informed of any intention to protest.
He said this was not based on any “high-handedness” by the TTPS, but was part of the utilisation of the law to protect citizens.
He noted supporters of political parties would often gather outside the Parliament, usually in large numbers, and cited that the TTPS must be prepared for any possibility where crowds with differing views are gathered together.
“I will give permission, but we have to know first,” Griffith said.