KINGSTOWN — Questions are being asked regionally and internationally after Grenadian journalist Hamlet Mark was taken into custody by police while covering a public protest by supporters of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) outside the Electoral Office in Kingstown, St Vincent, on Thursday.
Mark, who runs Caribupdate News Services and is also an advisor to the Keith Mitchell government in Grenada, returned to the Kingstown protest following his release from police custody on Thursday afternoon after about six hours detention. No charges were laid against him.
Mark is known to have made several trips to St Vincent over the past weeks, covering the general elections and the developments that have followed, including the current protests.
The opposition NDP has accused the ULP of cheating in a number ways during and before the December 9, 2015 general elections, alleging that the ULP gave away more than $10 million worth of government-owned building supplies to its supporters in order to gain their votes.
The NDP has also complained that hundreds of ULP supporters registered falsely in constituencies where they did not live and had not lived for the required statutory period. The opposition party is also alleging that its ballot boxes were tampered with, and left unsealed overnight in a police station.
On Wednesday, police took nine protesters into custody and charged four of them with illegal assembly, apparently citing a law which states that no protest or public meeting should take place within 200 yards of a government ministry.
Mark was filming the police reaction to the latest demonstration last Thursday when a senior officer ordered that he be taken into custody. He was reportedly filming a police officer whom he had previously recorded the previous day whilst arresting Luzette King, an outspoken NDP supporter. The police officer apparently took offense to being filmed and ordered him to be arrested.
Mark went quietly with the police officers to the Central Police Station, located a few hundred yards away.
While he was being taken to the police station, he reportedly asked the officers if he was under arrest but they told him they did not know. Others arrested were told to wait until they got to the police station and a senior officer would decide what to charge them with.
At the station, Mark was booked and his camera and microphone were taken from him; however, they were returned to him with all his other belongings when he was released.
Like most of those who were arrested by the police, on release he claimed he was verbally abused by officers while in custody. He alleges that police said he was putting the ULP government in a bad light and embarrassing the government, and that they didn’t want him at the protest, accusing him of being anti-ULP.
The ULP won the December 9 elections and a fourth term in office by taking 8 of the 15 parliamentary seats in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while the NDP won the remaining 7. International election observers have declared the elections to be free and fair, but allegations by the NDP about offenses by the ULP continue to spur protests.
Thursday’s march marked the 28th day of protests and it attracted the largest gathering of protesters since the demonstrations started. Observers say that a police crackdown on the previous day appeared to infuriate many Vincentian citizens, including some visiting from the Diaspora, swelling the crowds.
This was apparently the first time Mark had ever been detained by police during a journalistic assignment, and besides that he had never been intimidated by police before. Media watchers are concerned that the incident now calls into question the freedom of the press in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as the protests in Kingstown continue.
The above article has been republished from Caribbean News Now, under a mutual republishing partnership with the Antillean Media Group. It has been edited for clarity and the incorporation of new developments since originally published.