Reporters Without Borders, based in France, and The International Press Institute, in Vienna, have strongly condemned the raid of the newspaper’s newsroom and the search of Bagoo’s residence on February 9 by members of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau.
Nine police officers executed a warrant and searched Bagoo’s desk in the newsroom, going through his computer and documents, and finally taking with them two flash drives, two cellphones and a computer hard drive used by the reporter.
Later, officers searched Bagoo’s residence and took away three personal computers.
The search warrants were executed as the police sought to force Bagoo to disclose the source of an exclusive report, published last December, on a row between Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon and deputy chairman Gladys Gafoor.
“These raids are a clear violation of the confidentiality of sources, a fundamental principle of journalism,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement late Monday. It said the police action could discourage journalists from seeking information in the public interest. “The confiscated documents and equipment must immediately be returned to Andre Bagoo and Newsday,” it added.
Reporters Without Borders recently gave a poor rating for Trinidad and Tobago on the world press freedom index, citing government spying under the previous PNM administration. The International Press Institute, meanwhile, says Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs must immediately apologise to Bagoo and Newsday for the raids.
In an article written by Mariela Hoyer, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean and posted on its website (http://www.freemedia.at/index.php?id=288&tx_ttnews), IPI said it was deeply concerned about the issuing of search warrants, especially so because a similar action took place five weeks earlier against Caribbean Communications Network TV6.
IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said the police are conducting acts of intimidation against the local media.
“It is unacceptable that they are pressing Andre Bagoo in order to make him reveal his sources. It is a clear violation of press freedom and an insult to anyone who values democracy.” “We are concerned about this recent and frequent intimidation of Trinidad’s journalists and demand that the police commissioner immediately issue an apology to Mr Bagoo and Newsday,” she added.
The Trinidad and Tobago Publishers & Broadcasters Association, IPI’s partner in the World Congress 2012 scheduled to be held in Port-of-Spain in June, has already called on Gibbs to publicly explain the reasons for the raids. The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), in a release yesterday, condemned the latest act of intimidation against Bagoo, the stationing of a marked police vehicle outside his home in Belmont on Sunday night.
MATT said the stake-out, like the raid on Newsday’s offices and Bagoo’s home, was “a blatant abuse of police powers.”
MATT called on the police to apologise to Bagoo “for this latest outrage.”
On the latest attempt to coerce and intimidate Bagoo into complying with police demands that he reveal his sources MATT said, “Mr Bagoo is within his rights to refuse to betray his sources and is contravening no law by respecting and guarding their confidentiality. Indeed, it would be unethical for him to reveal them.” The police action, MATT said “was reckless and extreme” and goes against the constitution and numerous international accords to which TT is a signatory.
MATT, also rejecting an attempt by Gibbs to justify the raids on the basis of legal technicalities, said it is horrified by the commissioner likening media practitioners to “bullies, the manipulators and intimidators” who “purposefully initiate violence and maleficence” and “constantly attempt through illegal, unethical and nefarious means to destroy the very underpinnings and basic tenets of our society.”
MATT said it is also seeking legal advice on the matter and intends to pursue it to the limits in defence of the freedom of the press and of the journalists of TT.