– treatment of Mormons cited as prime example
Leaked cables from the US Embassy in Georgetown have suggested that Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee wanted missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), out of Guyana.
According to the document, the detention of several members of the church on September 2, last year, was done under the guise that they were not in possession of work permits.
“Though the impetus for the denial of work permits for Latter Day Saints missionaries and subsequent decision to remove them remains unclear, the Acting Head of the CID unit was blunt about the GoG’s intent: The Minister wants them out,” a statement on the whistleblower website Wikileaks informed.
The Government of Guyana had detained 41 missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) for 11 hours on September 2, 2009, claiming they were in the country without valid work permits.
One elderly missionary couple was detained overnight.
According to the WikiLeaks website, the missionaries told the Embassy that the police initially said they were detained for gathering information on behalf of the U.S., though the Government of Guyana denied it and stated that the rumour originated with the U.S. Embassy.
The Embassy said that this incident, as well as the pursuit of suspects in the Ministry of Health fire, painted a picture of a state where opposition is marginalized and rule of law is selectively applied.
“There is consensus among the international donor community observers that democracy and rule of law in Guyana is at its lowest ebb since the 2006 elections.”
The cables also revealed that, additionally, diplomatic and local observers commented that the rhetoric and tightening of political power is at its highest since the 2006 Elections.
According to the document, the case of U.S. missionaries detained in preparation for immediate deportation despite court orders to the contrary, brought to stark light the flimsiness of the rule of law in Guyana.
“Both Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee and Commissioner of Police Henry Greene … ignored court orders to release the missionaries while their deportation case was pending before the court,” the leaked cables stated.
“President Bharrat Jagdeo had the missionaries released not as the court ordered it, but only as a 30-day extension of their deportation,” it added.
The US Embassy document stated that Jagdeo and his key advisors had publicly defended the detention and deportation orders, and only gave apologies for the manner in which the missionaries were “rounded up.”
Despite never formally charging the group with any offence, the Ministry of Home Affairs detained the missionaries in the lobby of the Criminal Investigations Department, confiscated their passports, and failed to provide them with basic necessities such as water, food, and toilet paper, the cable said.
The group had filed an appeal on the permit decision, and under Guyanese law they were allowed to remain in the country until the matter was settled.
A separate, second court order for the group’s immediate release issued September 2, 2009, had no effect on the Ministry’s decision to hold the LDS, who were let go several hours after President Jagdeo ordered their release.
Former US Charge D’affaires Karen Williams had raised the issue of the detention in a scheduled meeting with President Jagdeo.
“The President, who was visibly surprised by the news that the Ministry decided to expel the missionaries–and acutely aware of the negative media attention it would bring–immediately tried to reach the Minister of Home Affairs, who was unavailable, for an explanation. An hour later missionary leaders met with the President who agreed to release them provided they left the country within 30 days.”
The Mormon Church, which has supported missionaries in Guyana for more than 20 years, claims 4000 Guyanese members. It reportedly spends US$1M annually in Guyana supporting its activities.
“The missionary leaders who met with the President said he noted the GoG had received an increase in missionary applications from Muslim groups and implied there was a limit on how many missionaries any one group may have in Guyana, though he could not, or would not, name that number or produce any statutory information on category limitations,” the US Embassy stated.
According to the Embassy, the expulsion came as a surprise, given the Church’s uneventful history in Guyana and the country’s long tradition of free religious expression. It stated that aside from the poor treatment and unjust detention of Mormons, the episode was deeply disturbing on several levels.
“ The fact that the President was clearly caught off-guard at the news that the Ministry planned to expel a large group from a major religious organization and then was unable to reach the Minister of Home Affairs immediately, suggests that Jagdeo’s position in the party has indeed weakened.
“The March 2009 death of Guyana’s former President and staunch supporter (Janet Jagan)has provided an opening for the old-guard communist element in the ruling party to assert itself prior to the 2011 elections. Jagdeo, who became president in 1999 at age 35, appears not to have the support within the PPP to reshuffle the cabinet or remove incompetent or corrupt officials. That the Ministry of Home Affairs did not even acknowledge that a court order existed for the release of the missionaries and it took an intervention from President Jagdeo himself for them to be released brings into serious question the GoG’ s commitment to, or ability to enforce, the rule of law.”
And the harassment and alleged beating of suspects in the Ministry of Health fire further illustrated the selective application of laws, the US Embassy stated.
It noted that there has been no investigation of the allegations of abuse by police or defence forces.
According to the US Embassy, two prominent journalists, who, while critics of the government, are not active opposition members, spoke with Williams and other embassy officials at length about the limited rule of law and respect for democratic and transparent systems.
The embassy said that the journalists detailed the sidelining of non-Indo-Guyanese higher ranking police officials, the shifting of the judiciary to the benefit of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and thought that the case of the missionaries was perhaps an attempt to expel a group that had been cooperating and working well with the opposition in some humanitarian endeavours.
According to the US embassy documents the journalists claimed that although the government will allow the voices of the opposition to be heard, all democratic avenues for recourse will be cut off.
“The journalists’ observations are echoed by long-time observers in the diplomatic and donor community who have seen democracy and governance programs (aside from automation and some trainings) stagnate or meet with blunt disapproval.”
“President Jagdeo, while saying that he is just allowing his Ministers to do their jobs, is personally involved in every detail of government. His attitude toward the donor community has been in stark contrast to many of the officials he directs — he has been jovial, upbeat and visible at even some of the more minor donor community events. The overall picture is of a government tightening its control and misusing the rule of law, while saying the “right” words and smiling nicely for the cameras.”
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