A police officer speaks to activist Umar Abdullah before arresting him for leading a march against mandatory vaccination at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

A march against mandatory vaccination in Port-of-Spain yesterday, was scrapped mere minutes after it started and the coordinator detained.

Just before the demonstration began at the Queen’s Park Savannah (QPS) close to 11 am, activist Umar Abdullah was warned by police that he did not have the requisite approvals. Guardian Media understands a request was not submitted to the office of the Commissioner of Police for permission to be granted.

Abdullah insisted to the police officers that the group intended to simply walk around the savannah in prayer to urge the Government to leave COVID-19 vaccination as a choice for citizens. Holding on to a national flag, Abdullah started walking from outside the Grand Stand at the QPS, a stone’s throw away from a mass vaccination site. Members of his group, some of whom were clad in hazmat suits, trailed behind him in the full glare of dozens of police officers. Less than five minutes later, on reaching Maraval Road, across from Queen’s Royal College, a team of officers assigned to the Port-of-Spain Division, led by Acting Superintendent Sampooran Kissoonlal, approached Abdullah and informed him that he was not acting within the law.

Abdullah complied with the officers and was whisked away in a marked police bus to the Belmont Police Station. He was released from custody around noon, after what was described as an amicable discussion with senior police officials.

“The first thing is you advertise that it was a protest, so you can’t assume it was a walk because they all came here similarly dressed, chanting the same words and praises and they were all together at the time,” a senior police official told Guardian Media at the QPS yesterday.

The officer said Abdullah was warned about the march on Wednesday night.

“It is not just about the placards and the signs or the agenda, they made clear what their intentions were and because of the COVID and other regulations, you need permission to do this, and permission was not granted,” the officer further explained.

Other members of the group continued walking but as they neared the Emperor Valley Zoo, one person was ticketed for not wearing a face mask. Following this, the event was scrapped, with officers offering to drive participants back to their vehicles.

During a telephone interview with Guardian Media after being released, Abdullah clarified that the event was not a march but a peaceful walk.

“There was an earlier publication that had the word ‘protest’, but we took the word out,” Abdullah stated.

“The intention was not to have any sort of confrontation with the police and our intention was to obey all the COVID protocols,” he added.

Abdullah also emphasised that the group was not “anti-vax” but “pro-choice.”

“The purpose of the event was to highlight the issues as it relates to Government’s position on the vaccine, mandating vaccines for children, workers and talking about safe zones… I mean what is that about? Why the whole of Trinidad and Tobago cannot be a safe zone.”

He said the group plans to go at it again, this time ensuring the necessary approvals are granted.