– given 30 days to leave
The Guyana Government has ordered the expulsion of all the foreign members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The church members, most of whom are Americans, were detained at the Headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department, Eve Leary, yesterday, and were given 30 days to leave Guyana.
No official reason has been given for the move by the local authorities.
The action is being seen as a diplomatic issue since officials from the American Embassy in Georgetown, including Charge d‘Affairs Karen Williams, had to intervene on behalf of the detainees.
“This has now escalated to a diplomatic incident, I don’t possess any skills in that area,” said attorney Nigel Hughes, who is representing the detainees.
The church members who are known as Mormons, and who hail mainly from the state of Utah in the United States of America, have been in Guyana for over 20 years carrying out missionary and humanitarian work.
Kaieteur News was told that on Tuesday night, police had swooped down on the Lahama Gardens home of two of the church’s elders and arrested them.
“They (police) actually went to the home of the elders. They told them to pack their bags and head straight to the airport,” Hughes related.
He said that he intervened after he was contacted and he proceeded to inform the police that there were matters (appeals) concerning the church members that were engaging the courts since July 31.
The attorney said that the police informed him that they were unaware of any court proceedings.
Kaieteur News understands that the church had on repeated occasions requested extensions of stay and work permits for its members, but these were denied by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“We asked for the elders to be released on bail on compassionate reasons because of course these are people of pretty advanced age. I was informed that the Commissioner of Police declined that request. I don’t know the reason which might have triggered this but certainly this afternoon’s information to the elders was that the entire church must leave,” the attorney stated.
He was informed to have the other missionaries report to the police early yesterday morning.
When they did, they too were detained.
Earlier yesterday, Hughes moved to the High Court and obtained an order from Chief Justice Ian Chang, prohibiting the Chief Immigration Officer (Commissioner of Police) , Head of Immigration Services and the Attorney General from arresting and detaining the 50 missionaries for the purpose of taking them out of the country until their appeals have been heard.
However, according to the attorney, a senior police officer informed that the government does not intend to abide by the court orders.
“That senior officer has also said that the government wants all the missionaries out of the country immediately,” Hughes told the media yesterday afternoon.
An hour later, two representatives from the church met with President Bharrat Jagdeo but the decision to expel the missionaries was not reversed, only that they will be given 30 days to leave Guyana.
From all appearances the appeal by the members of the church is being overlooked.
“As far as I’m aware, no reason has been offered. Some of the fifty have already left, so the remaining 38 or 40 remain,” Hughes said.
Charge d’Affairs of the United States Embassy in Georgetown, Karen Williams, expressed surprise at the move.
She told the media that she was limited in what she could say about the issue citing the privacy laws of the United States of America. She however stated that officials from the embassy had been involved in the matter as soon as they were apprised of what was taking place.
“We’ve had meetings throughout the day with the government to try and resolve the situation. Our role as with any American citizen is to protect and support our citizens overseas. So when we were apprised that American citizens were being detained, we contacted the authorities here, we did everything utmost to our abilities to try and make sure our citizens were being taken care of, and the issues involving them were being addressed. We talked to all levels of the government today in order to try to serve the best interest of the missionaries who are here,” Williams told members of the media shortly after she emerged from the CID Headquarters.
She confirmed that the US officials and the Guyanese authorities have been able to reach a temporary resolution and she hoped that moving forward, the other issues will be worked out.
“The time that I’ve been here there’s not been something like this, so it’s quite surprising,” Williams said.
She too could not say what might have sparked the move to expel the Mormons from Guyana.
“I could not speculate in the case because that would involve things that I don’t have permission to release,” the US Charge d’Affairs stated.
Throughout yesterday, the detained missionaries were heard singing lustily and even ventured to the windows of the CID headquarters with their singing when the media arrived.
This apparently angered some of the local police officers who promptly ordered them to stop.
People’s National Congress Reform Member of Parliament, Volda Lawrence, who has been working closely with the church and who was at the CID Headquarters offering moral support, stopped short of condemning the move by the Guyana Government.
She said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arrived in Guyana during the presidency of the late President Hugh Desmond Hoyte and they were given permission to operate here.
“They are missionaries just like any other denomination. They’ve been helping throughout the length and breadth of Guyana, irrespective of affiliation to any particular group and it’s a very sad day for the poor people of Guyana,” Lawrence told this newspaper.
She said that she hopes that good sense will prevail since the church members don’t hurt anybody.
Lawrence also expressed the hope that the move is not politically motivated since the church is not a political organization.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is all over the world, even in China, they are there, and so I feel that if they can be in places like China and many other hard line countries… we’re an open democracy,” Lawrence stated.
At least one church member, Elder Lingren, said he too was surprised by the actions of the Guyanese authorities.
“We’re here to do the Lord’s work, we help the people, so it comes as a little bit of a surprise, but these things do happen. We know that there is opposition sometimes from the other side, Satan. Perhaps this is part of it, we don’t know,” Elder Lingren said.
He said that he has never heard of the church being expelled from any other country they operate in.
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