A group of Muslim leaders arrive at Boys Scouts headquarters in St Ann’s to be shuttled to their meeting with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the Diplomatic Centre yesterday.
Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr was one of approximately 120 leaders and representatives of Muslim organisations represented at the meeting, which was also attended by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon and acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams.
The meeting was described as a fair platform where Muslim leaders were allowed to make their “frank” contributions, including how they felt by the increasing “Islamophobia” and Muslims being labelled as terrorists with affiliation to the ISIL. The leaders were also allowed to present documents containing suggestions to the Government.
Speaking to the media outside the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, afterwards Abu Bakr said Rowley indicated this would not be the last meeting.
“The Prime Minister did say that he appreciated everyone voicing freely their opinions and he intends to continue dialogue…so this gives a measure of hope,” Abu Bakr said.
However, he said the PM offered no evidence to show on what basis the 15 people who arrested in connection with the plot to disrupt Carnival 2018 were arrested and held for over six days before being released.
Noting it was a similar situation when Muslims were arrested during the state of emergency in 2011, Abu Bakr said he believed that governments act in a bit of haste.
“You need to verify information before you violate the rights of your citizens…in both cases the evidence did not produce.”
Director of the Muslim community in Tobago, Kameal Ali, who was the first to emerge from the meeting, said he left feeling a sense of calm and hope.
“The Prime Minister assured us that Government is not anti-Muslim and that we have the freedom to practice our religion, which is enshrined in the Constitution,” Ali said.
He said all leaders were given a fair hearing of their issues that directly affect them, especially how Muslims are handled whenever they are detained for questioning by the police.
“The Prime Minister indicated that he along with National Security Minister Edmund Dillon will see how best they can work together with the Muslims,” Ali said.
Ali said he also took the opportunity to show Rowley a list of Tobago businesses that were forced to close down because of the sea bridge issues.
Islamic Broadcasting Network’s Inshan Ishmael said some of the effects of the amendment of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were raised and gave specifics on the T&T Police Service being given more power where arrests and detention of citizens are concerned.
“In 2011 we had a situation where people were arrested under the state of emergency and not one single proof and it was done under similar actions. We are finding out that proof is hard to come by,” Ishmael said.
He admitted that whilst he found comfort from Rowley, he did not find the same thing from Williams.
“There is a clear disparity on how the Muslims are treated in this country. There is evidence that Muslims are being targeted by members of the Police Service. Things need to change,” Ishmael said.
On the issue of T&T’s involvement with the ISIL, Ishmael said he believes a list of names could not be provided as nobody was willing to come forward with information.
“There is disparity in the numbers - 400, 200 and 100…the Ministry of National Security does not even know if it is coming or going. It is a guessing game.”