FNM Torchbearers pres. among critics
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Torchbearers Youth Association (TYA) President Carlyle Bethel today called on government agencies to have more leniency and compassion in the application of the COVID-19 emergency orders.
Bethel’s call comes amidst widespread criticism for various sectors, including former Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins, PLP Senator JoBeth Coleby Davis, and Former Director-General of Culture Dr Nicolette Bethel over the recent prosecution of curfew breakers.
Yesterday, Jason Williams, 18, was fined $700 for violating curfew and operating a non-essential business by selling coconuts on the side of Harold Road on Friday. He was given a timeline to pay the fine or serve two months in prison.
Following mounting public outcry, the local non-profit group Family of All Murder Victims (FOAM) stepped up to pay the fine.
Bethel said the TYA also reached out to the young man to offer assistance, underscoring while the emergency orders have been put in place for protection, the application of justice must not criminalize young entrepreneurship.
“I do believe that there are some people who break the laws recklessly and they should be punished,” he told Eyewitness News.
“But I do think that there are cases with people who break the law out of what they believe to be a necessity because of some dire situation.”
Bethel continued: “I would just like to hope and believe that our system is operating with the overarching agreement that we are not looking to excessively punish people. We want to see the country work and we want to see the emergency orders obeyed but we have to understand that there are sometimes situations that cause us to have to look and apply some measured judgment.”
Bethel, who is also the son of the attorney general, added that all arms of government, from law enforcement and the courts, should approach all of these situations with “love, compassion, understanding and a level of restraint that meets the offense”.
While Bethel maintained that the government has done a good job to date with its handling of “unprecedented times”, others did not hesitate to castigate the FNM administration’s management of the crisis.
In a Facebook post, Rollins called the decision to fine Williams silly and questioned the rationale of potentially sending the young man to prison.
“We are turning the law into an a** in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” he wrote.
“The FNM MPs are afraid of their dictatorial leader. Through our collective outcry, we the public must compel our elected representatives to muster the courage to speak up for the downtrodden.
“This persecution of the poor must stop. To the Competent Authority: he who is powerful must be merciful.”
Rollins has been outspoken in recent weeks on national issues after largely remaining out of the public spotlight since the 2017 General Election.
William’s matter is just one among several recent incidents where the public has castigated the decisions of officers and discretion of the courts.
In late March, Bahamians condemned the arrest and conviction of two homeless men in Grand Bahama for violating the curfew laws.
Two Haitian men who went to a public water pump to get water during a weekend lockdown were arraigned and fined $400 each or one month in prison.
Those convictions were flagged by Coleby-Davis during a PLP press conference today.
The PLP senator renewed her call for the government to speak with the proper judicial authorities about the policy behind the application of the emergency laws.
“Surely it is unjust and oppressive to fine people hundreds of dollars where they are unemployed and have no visible means of support or the ability to pay,” she said.
“There are other instruments or ways of dealing with this that are just and fair.
“…There must be justice and not injustice in the administration of the law.”
Noted anthropologist and University of The Bahamas professor Nicolette Bethel shared similar sentiments over the issuance of justice to working-class citizens.
In her own Facebook post, tagging Attorney General Carl Bethel, she said, “The message is clear. If you poor; stay hungry, stay dirty, get poorer, or we will lock you up where the risk of getting sick is higher.
“I get it, being black is a crime, being poor is a crime, and we can punish these crimes even better under emergency orders.
“Carl W. Bethel knows why I’m tagging him. Selling food is non-essential but putting people in court or jail is.
“Well done, justice system of The Bahamas,” she added.