Alleged protest organisers plead not guilty, first witness takes the stand

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Donette Simon (left) and Shenel Williams
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By Latrishka Thomas

[email protected]

The trial has finally begun for two women charged with organising the infamous ‘Freedom Fighters’ protest last August.

Donette Simon of Tindale Road and Shenel Williams of Villa were among several persons arrested after a demonstration against Covid-related rules on August 8 2021 during which police used tear-gas and fired rubber bullets.

The women are jointly accused of “organising a prohibited public meeting” and participating in said event.

Williams is also facing two charges in relation to incitement and encouraging unlawful behaviour.

After more than six months of waiting for the police file, the women finally entered pleas.

They denied each of the charges and the trial began immediately before Magistrate Conliffe Clarke in the St John’s Magistrates’ Court.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Arthur Edwards was the first and only person to take the stand yesterday.

He began his testimony by indicating that he was privy to a letter where “anti-vaccination persons” were denied permission to march as they requested.

The officer said that on the day of said gathering he and other officers went to the location near the VC Bird bust in St John’s where there was a small group present at the time, who were informed that they were not permitted to march.

He said that as the crowd grew in size, the defendants arrived.

The crowd continued to defy the police’s instructions to disperse and even chanted “arwe nah move from yah” along with other remarks, the witness said.

“Williams was the one inciting defiance of our instructions,” Edwards added.

He said that Simon was also chanting.

According to the senior law enforcement official, the gathering grew to about 400 to 500 persons, such that traffic was blocked.

When the riot team arrived, they made announcements and displayed a banner instructing the group to disperse or be teargassed but the group continued to advance and became even more aggressive, the court heard.

The police were forced to disperse the crowd with teargas and it was after that they noticed several fires had been lit and missiles were thrown.

In cross examination, Symister showed the witness the aforementioned letter from the police commissioner and asked, “does it not only deal with marches?”

And the witness agreed.

He was then asked if the group were observed marching on that day and Edwards said no.

The lawyer then suggested that the group did not march or picket and therefore did not violate the instructions in the letter.

“To prevent the march, we have to prevent the assembly,” Edwards responded.

He also claimed that Williams led on the people by standing in the midst of the crowd and saying “are nah move from yah”.

But he admitted that he didn’t hear Williams say anything to suggest that people throw missiles or damage property.

Under re-examination Edwards was asked to revisit the letter and was able to clarify that the letter actually prohibited any gathering and not just a march.

The matter was then adjourned until April 28.

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