Photojournalists physically assaulted while reporting in Trinidad and Tobago
Reporters without borders (RSF) is concerned to learn that a photographer for Trinidad’s Guardian newspaper was assaulted last Friday while on a reporting assignment in the town of Penal. RSF strongly condemns this act of physical violence against a journalist who was simply doing his job and calls on authorities to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
On the afternoon of September 15, Guardian senior photographer Kristian De Silva was seeking to interview Hanif Nazim Baksh, the owner and CEO of private oil company A&V Drilling with his colleague, senior reporter Sascha Wilson. While De Silva took photographs of the company’s main offices from Nazim avenue, a public road, he noticed a car speeding towards him. Though he jumped to avoid being hit, the vehicle accelerated again. The driver of the vehicle then exited and shouted expletives at De Silva, claiming he was on private property.
De Silva then identified himself as press and was physically assaulted by the driver. He told RSF “the man continued towards me, pushing and shoving me...caus[ing] my glasses to fall...onto the ground. The man proceeded to physically attack me, punching me...on both sides of my face and bursting my lip. While bracing the attack, I bent down and placed the camera on the ground…[when] another man came from the side of me and hit me on the left side of my head.” The second man who assaulted De Silva then smashed the camera and De Silva’s glasses that had fallen to the ground.
When De Silva and his colleague reported the incident at the Penal police station, they learned that the first attacker was Baksh himself, and the second was a Senior police officer, Acting Sergeant Billy Ramsundar, from the Siparia police station in a nearby town. They both claimed that the journalists were trespassing on Baksh’s property.
Journalists Phil Britton and Leona Nicholson from TV6 were also attacked on Wednesday September 13 while on assignment in the same area. Cameraman Britton was on a public road taking cover shots outside A&V Oil’s main offices when he heard glass bottles landing on his car. The bottles appeared to come from a house owned by Baksh. A back glass on the cameraman’s vehicle was broken and a door was dented on impact. Britton and Nicholson then reported the incident to the nearby Penal police station.
A similar incident of physical violence also took place involving a Newsday photographer who was reporting in the same area last week.
“These violent attacks against journalists who were simply covering a story are deplorable, said Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF North America. “We strongly condemn any attempt to bar press coverage of an issue of public interest, especially when such attempts result in physical violence against reporters. We urge the authorities to quickly investigate this matter and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”
A&V Drilling is currently implicated in a scandal with state oil company, Petrotrin. It is being alleged that Baksh was paid millions of dollars by company Petrotrin for oil the company never received, as revealed during a recent internal company audit.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley condemned the attack on September 17 as “wholly unacceptable” and said such incidents “should not be initiated or encouraged by any person, under any circumstances.”
In a statement issued on September 18, Baksh offered an apology but claimed that the media workers had entered his property without permission and that the company had a right to defend its property.
De Silva had to seek medical attention for injuries resulting from the assault. He told RSF that he is also being treated for anxiety and remains concerned for the safety of himself and his family.
Trinidad and Tobago ranks 34 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.