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Apr 9, 2015

Albert Vaughan in Court for Loitering

Kareem Musa

Magistrate Hettie Mae Stuart is to decide next Wednesday, April fifteenth, on a charge of loitering in a public place filed against radio personality and activist for the People’s United Party, Albert Vaughan. The charges were brought following protests by workers for Belize Maintenance Limited in August of 2014. While covering the arrest of forty-one workers from the company for an illegal public gathering and municipal littering charges at the Queen Street Police Station, Vaughan was arrested. The workers had been protesting their treatment by the Belize City Council, which had fallen back as much as eighteen weeks of payments for the BML sanitation contract. Fifty of them were scheduled to be temporarily let go by the company. They strewed garbage in front of City Hall and refused to clean it up. The trial began two weeks ago and today, Vaughan’s attorneys, Kareem Musa and Kevin Arthurs, filed a no-case submission on behalf of their client. According to Musa, Vaughan was lawfully entitled to be present in front of the police station as a reporter, covering the protest as other media houses did, and that he was specifically targeted in a “political witchhunt.” He told us about his submission to the court.

 

Kareem Musa, Attorney for Albert Vaughan

“So we are now at the stage of making our no case submission because clearly he was not out there for no apparent reason; that’s what the law of loitering is—that you remain in a certain place for no apparent reason. Mister Vaughan was out there carrying that very story that other media personnel were carrying that day so he had a lawful right to be there. Under the Constitution, under section fifteen of the Constitution, every citizen of this country has the right to work and that is what Mister Vaughan was doing. But aside from that, there were so many discrepancies, so many inconsistencies with the police testimonies that we relied on in our no case submission. One of the officers actually said Miser Albert Vaughan, left, went across the street, did not make any noise, he left quietly. So even their own case, their admitting that Mister Albert Vaughan was not loitering. But in any event, the fact still remains that he had a lawful right to be out there because that is his job to carry the story. None of you could have been moved that day—I am telling you that—because they could not do that. But because he is a political personality, he was targeted.”

 

In court Musa submitted that Vaughan’s right to work under Section fifteen of the Constitution may have been violated by his detention. It came out in testimony that while a group of persons which included media personnel were warned specifically of the possible violation, Vaughan, who was among them, was never personally addressed, and in fact was walking away from the scene when he was picked up. Musa submitted that Vaughan could not have satisfied the charge under Section ninety-eight of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, which requires that the person specifically refuses to leave under order of the police, or a shopkeeper in instances where the accused is in front of a shop. The prosecuting court officer will reply in writing by Monday, April thirteenth. The charges against the BML workers were eventually dropped after BML, the City Council and the Government of Belize reached agreement on a transition out of the City’s contract with BML, which was successfully accomplished in January.

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