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Two reporters who were part of a media team covering a police operation in Alberttown were yesterday arrested by police ranks and detained for a short while before being released with an apology from the force.

Stabroek News reporter Christopher Yaw and Kevin Sunich of News Today, Channel Six, were carted off to the Alberttown Police Station in a van minutes after arriving at the scene of the police operation. In the vehicle also were two other men believed to be suspects in other matters. The reporters were not told the reason for their arrest and detention.

The incident has raised the ire of many in the media because the two reporters were covering an assignment at the time.

Yaw in describing his experience said, "I was irritated and humiliated to be packed in a police vehicle like a common criminal. This is one example of the usual, unmannerly and totally inconsiderate nature of the police operations."

He explained that he went to Fifth Street Alberttown around 2:30 pm following reports of a shooting. He said that about five minutes after arriving on the scene he noticed police escorting a man, who they had apparently chased and fired at.

Ranks were telling the man to get into the police vehicle when Yaw decided to take a photograph of what was taking place.

"One of the ranks approached and asked what I was doing. Before I could answer, he told me to come and demanded that I hand over my camera."

Yaw recalled trying in vain to tell the ranks he was a reporter. He stressed that he was carrying his official media pass but had the identification piece in his shirt pocket.

He said at one point he even showed the police his pass.

Ranks, he said, refused to accept his explanation and told him to remove the chip from the camera although he indicated to them that he hadn't taken a photograph.

Yaw mentioned that while he was being ordered into the van a policeman grabbed his shirt and attempted to slap him, but changed his mind. According to Yaw, ranks took Sunich's camera a short while after and ordered him into the same vehicle.

At Alberttown Police Station, they were left sitting in the vehicle which was parked outside for about five minutes while ranks contemplated whether they should be taken to Police

headquarters.

Eventually they were taken to the upper flat but after about 15 minutes the two were taken downstairs to speak with a senior officer.

"The senior officer called Pompey told the ranks that they should not have done what they did. He also mentioned that they (the police) need to have a training programme on how the police should treat the media. He apologised and told us that we could leave."

The cameras were also returned. Sunich who was very displeased over what happened to him told the Stabroek News that the police even told him to sit on top of a wounded man who was also in the vehicle.

"I didn't say anything I just looked at him."

When Stabroek News made inquiries about Yaw at the station, a policewoman without hesitation stated that no one by that name had been brought there. An armed policeman who was part of the group who arrested the reporters later said that the men were upstairs. When the two reporters were brought downstairs the policewoman immediately told two other media workers who were there to go onto the road and wait.

Meanwhile the Guyana Press Association (GPA) in a release said that the arrest of the two reporters is unacceptable and cannot be condoned.

"The local media corps and the police forged a working relationship largely through the intervention of the British High Commission that brought a specialist media trainer."

According to the GPA release, media workers must be able to perform their duties without hindrance from the public and more so law enforcement ranks, each having their respective duty.

The GPA accepted an apology yesterday from the Commander of A Division Paul Slowe on behalf of the force.

"Mr. Slowe said that while none of the reporters had any form of identification, i.e. press passes, it is the good relationship between the Guyana Press Association and the police that forced their release without any conflict," said the release.

The GPA is urging all police ranks to be aware of the role of the media since too often law enforcement ranks seek to physically and otherwise restrain media workers in the execution of their duties.

Stabroek News Editor Anand Persaud condemned the arrests of the two reporters. He said that Yaw was at the time in possession of his official police press pass and this should have entitled him to discharge his functions without any hindrance. Persaud said the police force needs to ensure that its ranks are schooled on the functions of the media and the right of journalists to be present at scenes like the one yesterday. He added that some members of the police force continue to discredit their organisation through crude and boorish behaviour and this must also be addressed. (Zoisa Fraser)

Stabroek News
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