The following is the full text of the statement made by Nafeesa Mohammed, during her press conference, earlier today, during which she explained the reasons why she decided to resign from the People’s National Movement (PNM).
STATEMENT BY NAFEESA MOHAMMED
28th JULY 2020
I begin in the name of God, most gracious, most merciful!
Tawakkul is an Arabic word that means trust and reliance on God. It is about trusting in God’s Plan.
As August 10th, 2020 descends upon us, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago will have the opportunity to go to the Polls and speak with their fingers.
Today, I feel compelled to come out of “Banwas” which, according to ancient Hindu Teachings, connotes a forced exile as a punishment.
Our country is today on the brink of collapse and we require leaders who can genuinely help to heal our broken nation. The time has come for us to exercise our democratic right to choose the men and women who we would like to steer the course, stabilize the Ship of State and lead us through the turbulence and the rough seas ahead to our destination of harmony, peace, love, unity and prosperity.
Given the unique position that I have found myself in as an Attorney at Law and a Muslim woman, I must draw attention to some issues that have remained unresolved and so have caused severe damage to the fabric of the society.
It is with the hope that whichever Party forms the new Government of Trinidad and Tobago, urgent and immediate attention will be given towards repairing the damage that (has been done).
In March 2014, twenty two (22) nationals from our country were detained in Venezuela including three Imams and fourteen women and children. They were in Caracas awaiting Visas from the Saudi Arabian Embassy to visit the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah to perform the lesser form of Pilgrimage called the Umrah.
The women and children were released within the first week, the Imams within sixty days but five other men had to languish in Prison for three years by which time the Government in Trinidad and Tobago had changed and these men were not released until the end of 2016.
There were times when I had to agitate publicly on behalf of the families of these nationals to obtain assistance from the Government whilst the men were fighting legal battles in Venezuela.
They were eventually released and returned home but this only happened after they were slapped with additional charges of espionage which they knew nothing about.
This prisoner release seemed to have been entangled in the mystery surrounding the Dragon oil deal which has now collapsed.
Around that time, I was also seeking the help of the Government to intervene diplomatically to secure the release of another T&T national who was detained in Saudi Arabia and who was eventually released and repatriated in December, 2016 after sixteen (16) months of incarceration without being charged for any offence.
These detentions have raised some serious concerns about the manner in which our Security apparatus gathers its information and verify its accuracy before it is regarded as intelligence and eventually evidence to successfully prosecute in a Court of Law. They seem to emanate from a cabal of persons who lack an understanding of the history and evolution of the Muslim Community in Trinidad and Tobago. I will explain how it has impacted my own family.
As the campaign heats up, let us not forget that whilst we are grappling with the challenges of Covid-19 and credit can be given for the management of this crisis, there are many citizens who are crying out for help to be repatriated. We hear daily about the thousands who are stranded, sometimes under tragic circumstances. Lost amongst these voices are the relatives of sixty-six (66) children and twenty one (21) women who are citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and who are languishing in a Refugee Camp in Syria under horrendous conditions without food, potable water, and other inhumane conditions coupled with extreme weather conditions. Temperatures are now 50 degrees Celsius or 112 degrees Farenheit.
Most of these children are under the age of 12. Most of their fathers have been killed and the mothers are suffering and begging to be repatriated. Long before Covid -19, representations were being made to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Security, the Attorney General, the Prime Minister and others. But to date, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
These are vulnerable women and children who are stateless and are in need of protection.
You will recall the newspaper reports in January, 2019 that UK Rockstar Roger Waters of the Supergroup Pink Floyd had underwritten a rescue mission and was instrumental in taking a Trinidadian mother to Syria to rescue her two young children. A London based legal action charity Reprieve was involved in this rescue team.
It was only after this mission was publicised in our media that the Minister of National Security sought to give the impression that the return of the children was the result of the efforts of a special Team created by him called Team Nightingale.
I am aware that the relatives of these 66 children and 21 women have been seeking to make contact with this Team Nightingale for the past several months without success and have not been getting any responses from official sources.
These relatives are willing to cooperate with the Authorities to comply with the requisite conditions that are necessary to have these citizens repatriated and are yearning to be reunited and have them reintegrated in their home countries.
From the very beginning of his term as Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi approached his responsibilities with a lot of fanfare and public relations to the extent that he has caused severe damage to significant sections of the population.
His approach towards law making has been flawed from the onset.
The national outburst in changing the age of Marriage in 2016/2017 was one of his earliest displays of bungling incompetence. Without properly developing a discussion paper to engage critical stakeholders in order to develop a sound policy that would have informed the passage of good legislation, The AG rushed to stage manage the process to the extent that he disregarded the views of significant sections of the population especially the Hindu and Muslim communities.
At the end of the debate, his very own statistics would have shown that in our country, we do not really have a problem with child marriages but we do have a significant problem with teenage pregnancies. More than that, there was no resistance to raising the age of marriage and harmonizing it with the best practices in other countries. However, there was a request to maintain the provisions for parental consent and even judicial consent in exceptional situations given the natural laws and cultural norms within the Hindu and Muslim Communities. These views were disregarded and that’s when the disconnect with these communities started to deepen.
CARNIVAL 2018 RAIDS:
In January 2018, the Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, laid a Bill to further amend the Terrorism Act that was first passed in 2005 and amended in 2010, 2011 after the 9-11 tragedy changed the world and somehow made terrorism exclusive to Muslims and then again on 2012 and 2014. On the eve of this Debate in the Parliament, this country woke up on the morning of February 8th 2018 , one week before and on the height of the annual car oval celebrations to the news that a terror plot that was later reduced to a plot to “destabilize Carnival” and which eventually boiled down to unusual criminal activities.
At 3 AM residents in the El Socorro area witnessed pre dawn raids when homes were broken into and unlawfully entered without the requisite search warrants.
State of emergency powers were used without the law being proclaimed, in other words. Residents who were doing their morning ablutions for the fajr prayer and who have always been respectable, peaceful, law abiding citizens suddenly found their homes being invaded and raided by men in masks with heavy artillery supported by canines. Families were tied up, children and women were screaming.
Whilst this was unfolding in several homes El Socorro Road, there was no regard for the sanctity of the Nur E Islam Masjid where men scaled the walls and entered the compound with dogs and heavy artillery. Innocent youths from the community were arrested and detained for more than seventy two (72) hours under horrendous conditions in cells having to pray on the ground in filthy, smelly cells. Five persons from five different families living in homes on several streets along El Socorro Road, including Mohammedville where I live.
One mother who was detained, had to leave her baby in the care of elderly grandparents who had great difficulties calming the hungry, screaming child until arrangements were made for a neighbour who also had a newborn to assist in breastfeeding that child. Eventually, the grandparents had to be transported to the Police Station for a couple days to enable the mom to breastfeed her baby in a cell for half hour each day.
Legal steps had to be initiated, through habeas corpus applications and pre action protocol letters in some cases, until eventually the fifteen members of the Muslim Community who were arrested in simultaneous raids throughout the country on that Thursday morning, were released without being charged or convicted of any offences. The release started on Ash Wednesday, February 14, when the country returned to normal after the carnival. By the following day they were all at home.
By the end of that Carnival week, the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, got up in the House of Representatives on Friday 16th to respond to a question posed by an Opposition Member and he said that those raids were based on credible information from “Foreign Partners.”
The day after the raids, the US Embassy in Port of Spain and the UK High Commission were among four western countries that issued travel alerts warning their citizens based on the reported terror plot. And T&T made it to international news and the names of four young brothers splashed over international media which stained their names and reputation for life. For what?
Police commissioner Stephen Williams was on record as saying that it was a plot to destabilise the carnival but he subsequently described the reason for the raids as “unusual criminal activity.
Under the Terrorism Act of 2005, as amended, the police would have been required to obtain a detention order from a High Court judge. Until now we are not aware that this procedure was invoked.
However, two years after these sordid events that have scarred many in our Community, I cannot help but wonder about what steps have been taken to repair the severe damage inflicted upon innocent citizens of this country whose fundamental rights and freedoms were trampled upon.
Then again, four months later, on the eve of the Local Government By Election in June 2018 in the Barataria Electoral District, the Prime Minister continued to cast aspersions when he tried to link the discovery of a large cache of guns and ammunition that was found in the ceiling of a Masjid in Cunupia with the Carnival raids in El Socorro. It was the Imam and members of that Masjid who called in the Police upon making the discovery that someone had hidden the cache there and today, there is still a lingering doubt as to whether these weapons were not deliberately planted in the Masjid compound.
As an Officer of the Court and having worked throughout the years of my career as an Attorney at Law, I respect the work of our Law Enforcement Officers and the national security network. But at times, it is very alarming to me when the lines are crossed between Politicians and Law Enforcement.
These events have had a significant impact on communities and individuals across the country. There are many, including businesspersons within the Muslim Community who have been denied entry into the United States of America, whose Visas have been cancelled and others who have been subjected to intense questioning and scrutiny because they reside in certain places, including Mohammedville.
These are some issues that continue to linger in our minds and I have to ask AG Faris Al Rawi, who identified himself as a “descendant of the Prophet”, what steps has he taken to encourage his colleagues in Government including the Minister of National Security Stuart Young, the Prime Minister and others to investigate what went wrong during these raids and to repair the damage done to so many individuals and families.
As the Head of the Central Authority under the Mutual Legal Assistance legislation, the Attorney General has the ability to engage in direct communications with the US State Department and can easily bring relief to affected citizens.
More than that, with the new Counter Terrorism Unit set up in the AG’s Office, a mechanism can be established to enable citizens who are now being red-flagged to appear before a Committee/Board/Tribunal and be given an opportunity to be heard in the event of any doubts that may arise with respect to their travels, their finances, their businesses etc.
There are now several new pieces of legislation enacted that are very draconian and our Law Enforcement officials need to be continuously trained and be the right fit to understand the make up of our Society.
It was very evident that the rush to carry out those 2018 Carnival raids were akin to a movie in which a plot was fabricated and the actors were carrying out directives that were not based on reliable information far less intelligence.
Indeed, if there was a concern about a Terror Plot, a Court Order to detain a suspected Terrorist would have been easy to get. Without regard for existing legislation, the drama unfolded. Persons were detained and released with no charges or convictions.
We know that in all religious groupings in our country, there is diversity. The Muslim Community in Trinidad and Tobago is made up of over ten (10) percent of the Population and there are more than fifty (50) different groups and organisations. I am myself a traditional moderate Sunni Muslim and belong to the San Juan Muslim Ladies Organisation which is one of the leading Muslim Organisations functioning since 1958 in the Nur E Islam Masjid on El Socorro Road, San Juan.
I would like to remind those who are seeking to be elected as Parliamentary Representatives in the next few days that the El Socorro Community has been a place with a very rich history that has contributed towards the development of Trinidad and Tobago in significant ways.
Statesmen like the late Kamaluddin Mohammed and the Late Shamshuddin Mohammed were sons of the soil whose contributions in religion, culture, politics, agriculture, sports and community activities are well known in the country and documented in history. The Tacveeyatul Islamic Association, (TIA) the El Socorro Islamia TIA Primary School, the Aranguez Islamia TIA Primary School, the Nur E Islam Mosque Board, the Islamic Youth Movement, the San Juan Muslim Ladies Organisation, Mastana Bahar, the Mastana Bahar Cultural Pageant, Indian Variety, the several Radio Programmes on Radio Trinidad are amongst some of the legacies, institutional building, community Service and other aspects of nation building that stalwarts from Barataria/San Juan, St Joseph and other Marginal Constituencies have made significant contributions.
On the eve of this General Elections, as goodies and handouts are being given out including cemetery lands in the Marginal Constituencies of Moruga / Tableland, Chaguanas East and elsewhere, I cannot help but remind all those who are aspiring for high office that in Trinidad and Tobago, our diversity is one of our greatest assets and the management of our diversity should be placed on the priority list of whichever Party wins the August 10 polls because we need to heal this broken nation of ours.
Thank God we have an opportunity to go back to the polls where we can speak with our fingers.
The concept of Tawakkul is deep and significant as it reminds us all of our duty to trust in Almighty God and to place reliance on God Almighty for all the matters of this world and the Hereafter lie in the hands of the Supreme God Almighty.
One’s relationship with God must manifest in the way one deals with others. Thus, there is tremendous emphasis in Islam on upholding the rights of all creation—from one’s family, to one’s neighbors, to all human beings, to animals and the environment.
The Qur’an admonishes human beings to always arbitrate every matter with justice (Qur’an, 4:58), and to remove every bias in upholding justice even if it requires taking a stance against one’s own interests: “O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice, as witnesses before God, even if it be against yourselves or your parents and relatives” (Qur’an, 4:135).
So important is the notion of impartiality to justice that the Qur’an advises, “Let not the hatred of others towards you prevent you from being just. Be just, that is closer to piety” (Qur’an 5:8).
I have political friends and family on all sides of the political divide whom I respect dearly. However, the time has come for me to take a firm stance in justice even if it be against myself, my parents and relatives.
My parents are no longer in this world but they taught me to stand up for what I believe is right and just.
As a Former Deputy Political Leader of the People’s National Movement, (PNM) a former Senator, a former Chairman of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation and a former Senior Legal Advisor to the Prime Minister and as a child of the PNM, the time has come for me to come out of “Banwas” and to continue to stand up for justice, fairness, equity and equality in our Sweet Trinidad and Tobago.
I wish to state publicly that since 2018, I have felt as though I was forced into exile as a form of punishment for being outspoken about the injustices I witnessed first hand in my community and country and after two years with no one in leadership positions seeing it fit to investigate, far less repair the damage done to persons, families and communities, I have reached a crossroad where I have decided to resign from the People’s National Movement.
I no longer feel that I belong to this once great movement that my Uncle, my parents and so many of my blood relatives had helped to build even before 1956.
I pray that all citizens will be able to go out in their numbers on August 10th 2020 and exercise their franchise freely and free from fear so that we can all come together with all hands on deck to rebuild, restore and reconstruct our broken nation. Let us unite for a better Trinidad and Tobago.
Aadab Arz, Khuda Hafiz.
Attorney at Law