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Attorney Kandace Bharath-Nahous.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

Two of the main organisers responsible for vigils held for murder victim Andrea Bharatt are lashing out at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, over his statements that those vigils were organised and funded by the Opposition United National Congress.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Rowley said the UNC paid for and organised vigils bringing people together during a pandemic.

The Candlelight Movement (CLM), formed in the days after Bharatt was kidnapped – and businessman Inshan Ishmael – two of the main organisers of the vigils, have denied any political allegiance.

Andrea Bharatt, a 23-year-old court clerk, was kidnapped on January 29 after leaving the Arima Magistrate’s Court where she worked. Her decomposing body was found on February 4 and her murder was described by many as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For almost two weeks, vigils were held across the country, with thousands of citizens calling for greater protection for women and girls and harsher punishments for abusers.

In a press release yesterday, CLM’s public relations officer, attorney Kandace Bharath-Nahous, described the Prime Minister’s statements as “reprehensible, vile and callous.”

She said since its formation, CLM has stated it has no political affiliation. Bharath-Nahous said CLM made public statements several times criticising both the Government and Opposition for failing to protect women and citizens.

“It is unfortunate the scapegoats selected by the PM are groups which sought, through peaceful vigils, to highlight the outrage and desperation of citizens regarding the untenable situation of crime and violence against women which are a direct result of the abject failure of his Government, which has gone on for far too long and unabated with the result in the rape, brutalisation and murder of our innocent women,” Bharath-Nahous said.

She said the vigils were held not only for Bharatt, but for another murder victim Ashanti Riley and countless other victims whose names have been forgotten.

She accused the Government of refusing to do the bare minimum to address the issue of PH taxis or decriminalising pepper spray.

She said this has led to the crime spree against women continuing, with the most recent case occurring on Monday, when a 32-year-old woman was reportedly abducted while in a PH taxi. The woman managed to fight off her abductors and escape with her life, Bharath-Nahous said.

“Further, it is appalling but no surprise that the PM has sought to use the name of an innocent victim of murder callously, without care or any consideration for the damage of such statement to the family and loved ones of this victim, who he used as his scapegoat for his Government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She also accused the Government of refusing to secure the country’s borders, saying illegal Venezuelan migrants coming into the country have brought the deadly Brazilian strain of the virus.

Bharath-Nahous said the last time CLM held a public vigil was on March 12. She said thereafter, they postponed all events due to the alarming number of positive cases and deaths. She noted that on March 26, the Ministry of Health reported 217 active cases of the virus.

She urged Rowley to look at his own actions while in Tobago over the Easter weekend, saying no member of CLM or any of its volunteers had contracted COVID-19.

She called on Rowley to “let good sense prevail” and advised that after a conversation with Bharatt’s father, she has been advised to inform the Prime Minister to “cease and desist from politicising and calling the name of his brutalised, murdered 23-year-old daughter for his political gain.”

In an interview yesterday, Inshan Ishmael, who organised and facilitated several events at the Barakah Grounds, Chaguanas, also denied any involvement with the UNC. He accused the Prime Minister of making statements he cannot back up.

“Anytime you are speaking, you must speak from a position of fact. One thing the Prime Minister has not provided is any empirical data showing proof that there was an increase due to the events that was hosted by us,” Ishmael said.

He said when events were hosted at Barakah Grounds, he used his money and took up offers from volunteers to provide sound systems and tents.

He slammed the PM for his statement, saying, “So what it is we needed to fund again? This is an insult to a child who is deceased, it is an insult to that child’s family and I honestly believe that COVID the Prime Minister claimed he had, I think it’s affecting his mental capacity.”

Opposition responds

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has accused the Prime Minister of playing ‘depraved blame games.’

She said it was ‘wickedness’ for the Prime Minister to lay blame on those who participated in the vigils.

“What manner of evil mind will pray on Sunday and then on Monday blame vigils for the brutal murders of innocent citizens to distract from the fact that his Government has failed and has no plan to deal with this pandemic? This is a depraved act of deception and deflection by Keith Rowley.”

She said it was lunacy to link the upsurge in COVID-19 cases to vigils held three months ago.

She accused the Government of failing to secure the country’s borders and protect its citizens from COVID-19.

Persad-Bissessar said the UNC condemns and denies the ‘false’ claims of the Prime Minister.

“The UNC commiserates with all the families who were affected by violent crimes. In their time of healing, they should not have to face the wickedness of a Prime Minister who in order to save face and deflect from the failures of himself and his government, resorts to another blame game, this time blaming vigils held for loved ones.”