The Airport Blacklist
Stop! You have been blacklisted
Spotlight on Issues
Stories by Desiree Jodah
May 21, 1999
You arrive at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri with your passport, visa intact and travel tax paid ready to embark on your journey. The aircraft is on time and you think that you will be on your way shortly.
You have completed your embarkation/disembarkation form and after waiting in the line you submitted same to the immigration officer on duty. The officer disappears into an office with the form. You wait. The officer comes out and stamps the passports of a few other passengers as you watch. Then the officer comes to you and says he's sorry, but you would not be able to leave the country. Astonished, you ask why. Lo and behold you are told that your name is on the blacklist! Your proposed trip overseas ends at the airport!
Unfortunately for Guyanese, the blacklist in this country is mostly a list of names and addresses and does not include photographs. Just imagine, you could be stopped by immigration authorities if you have the same name as a blacklisted person! This experience without any doubt would be a very bad one and if the actions of the authorities are not justified could be provocative.
The problem is, if you are prevented from leaving the country, and if you think it is unjustified, you could still be inconvenienced. You could try to work it with the authorities at the airport, but if that does not work you then have to seek redress in the courts. Obviously all this takes time and time may not be on your side. Blacklisted! the word itself connotes something sinister and shady. However, most of the names on the blacklist are those of students who are contracted to government on the basis of scholarships granted to them.
Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis, when contacted for a comment on the blacklist which is controlled by the police, referred this newspaper to Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Carlotta Dodson. When contacted, Dodson said she was not permitted to speak to the press.
However, a police source told Stabroek News that while the names of some persons on the list were justified, others are not.
Stories in this feature attempt to enlighten readers on the blacklist--its origins, how your name could get on it, whether it is legal and constitutional and what your rights are if you are stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving the country.
Excerpts from the Constitution on freedom of movement and the immigration law are included.
What to do if you are prevented from leaving Guyana Enquire why you are being prevented from leaving. What is the allegation against you? Who made the allegation? What documents the authorities have to support their contention? Providing you are not a convicted felon, out on bail pending trial or serving a sentence, the authorities must provide you with the information. When you are given the information you have the right to request the assistance of an attorney or any other person.
How are persons blacklisted?
There are several reasons through which one's name could be placed on the blacklist.
Stabroek News understands that 90 percent of the names on the current list are those of students who are in contractual arrangements with the government as a result of scholarships granted. The other ten percent is made up of persons restrained from leaving the country as a result of an order issued by the court, those on bail pending trial and a few whose names are on for reasons not known.
Attorney-at-law Lloyd Joseph explained that there are several ways one's name could be placed on the list. He said that in civil law, if someone is owed money and suspects that the debtor was going to leave the country and not return, an order could be applied for under Section 72 of the High Court Act Chapter 3:02 as Amended by Act No. 15 of 1978, restraining the person from leaving. This information will then be passed to the police and the person's name would be placed on the list. The person would be able to travel if he/she pays the sum of money owing or lodges adequate security.
It is believed that government provides the names to the police so as to prevent students from leaving unless they repay the monies owed or lodge appropriate security.
Persons on bail pending trial for a criminal offence may not be allowed to leave the country and their names would appear on the list. These person would have to apply to the High Court for permission to travel.
However, Joseph said, there are other cases which could be described as administrative excessiveness, where the name of a person is placed on the list without proper confirmation as to why the person was being held. He said many people are being prevented from travelling under these circumstances.
Persons may not know their names are on the list until they arrive at the airport. According to a police source, notices are not sent - as is required - to people whose names are on the blacklist informing them of such.
The police source admitted that there are names of persons on the list who are not charged, but were being investigated for criminal offences. Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Customs Anti- Narcotics Unit would submit names of persons being investigated in connection with criminal activities. These persons would be stopped at the airport if they attempt to leave.
Walter Rodney ..............Bonita Harris
The origin of the blacklist
Attorney-at-law Lloyd Joseph who had represented a student who had been prevented from leaving Guyana in 1978, said that the blacklist became a term used in the 70's because of its arbitrary use by the police.
He said the police would tell people "you are on the blacklist." Joseph said: "There was a time in the history of our country when there was a lot of fear and many people were leaving the country surreptitiously because they feared government persecution or prosecution. ...things were happening and many people sought to leave rather discreetly. The police had established a list of names of persons who had contracts with the government and others and that list was used indiscriminately ... and that is how it began."
Political activist and co-leader of the Working People's Alliance Dr Rupert Roopnaraine recalled being one of several party members that the list was used indiscriminately against in the 70's and 80's. He said using a book called the WPA Recognition Hand Book, produced by the administration of the late Forbes Burnham in the 70's and which contained bio-data and photographs of WPA activists, several of them were prevented from leaving the country.
Dr Roopnaraine recalled June of 1981, one year after the leader of the WPA, Walter Rodney had been assassinated, when he was prevented from leaving the country for the UK and Germany to participate in first anniversary ceremonies to mark Rodney's death.
He said he arrived at the airport and was told that he had been blacklisted and was not permitted to travel. As a result a civil action was filed in the High Court against the then government's decision to restrict him from leaving the country.
Dr Roopnaraine said that on challenging the police who had stopped him, he was told that he could not travel because he had been charged with arson. The WPA leader said he subsequently left via the 'backtrack' (illegal exit) route. On his return, through the Timehri Airport, he was met by several immigration officers who asked for his exit stamp. He said they notified him that he would be summonsed.
WPA executives Andaiye, Eusi Kwayana and Clive Thomas were also prevented from leaving the country. Civil actions challenging the government's decision to prevent them from travelling had also been filed in the High Court. Dr Roopnaraine noted that these cases had all been won.
He also remembered Dr Rodney being prevented from leaving as well. He said it was in January 1980, when the WPA hero was on his way to attend Zimbabwe's independence celebrations. He also subsequently left via the 'backtrack' route.
The WPA co-leader recalled the late president Dr Cheddi Jagan protesting the stopping of party activist Bonita Harris from leaving the country. Dr Roopnaraine said that Dr Jagan, who had already boarded the aircraft, came out and sat on the tarmac in protest after Harris was stopped from leaving.
Is blacklisting constitutional and legal?
According to the Constitution of Guyana, no one should be denied the right to leave Guyana. However, there are certain conditions under which this article may not apply.
Article 148 of the Constitution deals with Freedom of Movement. Article 148 says in part:
(1) No person shall be deprived of his freedom of movement. That is to say the right to move freely throughout Guyana, the right to reside in any part of Guyana, the right to enter Guyana and the right to leave Guyana and immunity from expulsion from Guyana.
(2) Any restriction on a person's freedom of movement that is involved in his lawful detention shall not be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article.
3) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision (a) for the imposition of the restrictions on the movement or residence within Guyana of any person or on any person's right to leave Guyana that are reasonably required in the interest of public order or for the purpose of preventing the subversion of democratic institutions in Guyana...
(d) for the imposition of restrictions, by order of a court, on the movement of residence within Guyana of any person or on any person's right to leave Guyana either in consequence of his having been found guilty of a criminal offence under the laws of Guyana or for the purpose of ensuring that he appears before a court at a later date for trial for such criminal offence or for proceedings preliminary to trial or for proceedings relating to his extradition or lawful removal from Guyana...
(f) for the imposition of restrictions upon movement of residence within Guyana or on the right to leave Guyana of public officers...
(h) for the imposition of restrictions on the right of any person to leave Guyana that are reasonably required in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligations imposed on that person by law.
While Article 148 states that no person should be deprived of freedom of movement, persons who have been charged with a criminal offence which has not been determined or persons who have been found guilty of a criminal offence or those who have been restrained by a court order could be prevented from leaving the country without contravening this article.
However, persons who have been charged with a criminal offence and have been found not guilty, if a court order had not been obtained to restrict freedom of movement, should be allowed to leave the country.
Such was the case of Working People's Alliance co-leader, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, who had been freed by a magistrate on a charge of arson and successfully challenged the late president Forbes Burnham's administration in the High Court after he was prevented from leaving Guyana.
Dr Roopnaraine along two other WPA members had been charged with the offence of arson. The magistrate upheld no-case submissions and dismissed the charge. The prosecution had appealed the magistrate's ruling.
Shortly after Dr Roopnaraine was prevented from leaving the country, naming the then commissioner of police Lloyd Barker and another as defendants, he applied to the High Court for a declaration that the act of preventing him from leaving the country was an infringement of his constitutional right to freedom of movement.
The respondents argued that by virtue of the Summary Jurisdiction (Appeals) Act, Dr Roopnaraine was not free to leave the jurisdiction of the court until the determination of the appeal and also that the presumption that the WPA member was innocent was inapplicable in the circumstances.
In October 1981, Justice Prem Persaud ruled that the decision of the magistrate in acquitting Dr Roopnaraine of the criminal charge was a final adjudication by him of the matter. As a result the argument that the presumption of innocence was inapplicable was thrown out.
The judge also ruled that a person who had been acquitted was free and under no obligation or restraint, until a court hearing the appeal ruled otherwise. Also, that there was no compulsion or obligation on the part of Dr Roopnaraine to be present at the hearing of the appeal and that he did not need permission of the court to leave the country.
As had been mentioned, the blacklisting of persons under certain circumstances is accepted. But should a person be prevented from leaving the country on mere suspicion? Some lawyers think not. Attorney-at-law Lloyd Joseph contended that preventing a person from travelling on mere suspicion alone was illegal and unconstitutional. He said that regrettably people don't know their rights. He advised that if the authorities claim that you are prevented from leaving because you were being investigated, they have a right to inform you what they are investigating you about.
The law as it relates to blacklisting
Section 6 of the Immigration Act Chapter 14:02 states:
(a) The minister may by his directions in writing, impose restrictions on the right of a person to leave Guyana if he is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in the interests of defence, public safety or public order or for the purpose of preventing the subversion of democratic institutions in Guyana.
(b) He may also prevent persons generally or any class of persons leaving Guyana if he is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of preventing the subversion of democratic institutions in Guyana.
If a person is the subject of such a direction from the minister under Sub-section 1(a) a notice in writing together with a concise statement of the grounds for the imposition of the restriction, so that no defect of any kind in such a statement shall invalidate the directions, shall be served by an immigration officer as soon as it is practicable after the directions have been given and the case shall be reviewed by the tribunal established by Section 13 of the National Security Act and the said section shall apply mutatis mutandis in relation to the review of the case of any subject of an order made under Section 12 of the Act.
Notice of the minister's direction should be gazetted and published in a newspaper circulating in Guyana.
Any person to whom directions have been given pursuant to the two paragraphs shall forthwith upon notice surrender to the chief immigration officer or any other immigration officer any valid passport issued to him by the Government of Guyana. The chief immigration officer shall retain such passport as long as the directions continue in force.
And if that person does not possess such a passport any application by him for the procurement of a passport shall not be entertained as long as the directions are in force.
The person, as long as these directions continue in force, shall be prevented by any immigration officer, member of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force from leaving Guyana, by any means whatever, for any place outside Guyana and for that purpose take any necessary measures including the use of any assistance or such force as is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances.
Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any of the provisions of this section or any directions given thereunder shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $1,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months.
Lumumba remembers being ordered off Pan Am plane by policemen
Ministerial Adviser on Empowerment, Odinga Lumumba, remembers when he was a victim of the airport blacklist back in 1978.
Speaking to Stabroek News from his office at Homestretch Avenue, Lumumba said that in those years persons were blacklisted indirectly when they were required to obtain a tax clearance before being allowed to leave the country.
Then there was a regulation which said that if you came to Guyana for a visit and stayed over 30 days, you were required to obtain a tax clearance before being allowed to leave the country.
Lumumba, whose name was George Hopkinson in those days, said in 1978, year of the infamous referendum, while on a government scholarship overseas, he along with other Guyanese students rebelled against it. He said the Guyana United Movement was born out of their anti-referendum struggle.
Lumumba said he returned to Guyana during the referendum which was on July 10, 1978, to continue the rebellion against it locally. He said he was a supporter of the PNC then, but was against the referendum.
According to him, one of the reasons why he was prevented from leaving the country was because he had told a reporter from the BBC that the late Forbes Burnham, who was the President and PNC leader at the time, could have only been removed by an armed struggle, and for taking some literature back to the US for the late President Cheddi Jagan. He had also spoken out against the referendum at a meeting held at the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees' headquarters.
He recalled that he had cleared immigration and security and was aboard a Pan American aircraft when four policemen approached him and ordered him out. Lumumba remembered that he had refused telling the policemen that since he was on the plane he was no longer on Guyana's territory.
However, the policemen were smarter than he was. They informed the captain that there was a bomb in his (Lumumba's) baggage and that he was needed to identify it. As a result, Lumumba said, he had no option but to leave the aircraft.
He said the next day he attempted to leave the country and was told that his tax clearance had expired and that he must get another before being allowed to travel. Lumumba said since he was a student and was not working in Guyana it was difficult for him to obtain a tax clearance. According to him, he was told by a senior officer at the Inland Revenue Department that his photograph was in the Mirror newspaper and he would not be allowed to leave the country.
Lumumba then filed a civil action in the High Court challenging the government's decision to prevent him from leaving the country.
He said that shortly before the judge give his decision, a special sitting of Parliament was convened and Section 72 of Chapter 3:02 of the High Court Act dealing with the arrest in certain circumstances of defendants about to leave Guyana was amended. This amendment, he said, gave the Burnham government legal grounds for preventing him from leaving the country on the basis that he was a student who was indebted to the government as a result of a scholarship.
Lumumba said although former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Aubrey Bishop, had ruled in his favour against the government, because of the amendment to the Act, he had to pay the cost of his scholarship before he was able to leave the country to continue his studies.
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