A police raid on the compound of radio and TV Jaagriti has been labelled an attack on religion by Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj.
Nine police officers visited the station with a warrant under section 13 of the Sedition Act requesting recordings from April 16.
The action came days after a clip of Maharaj making disparaging comments about Tobagonians during a show on the station went viral on social media. In the clip, Maharaj described Tobagonians as lazy persons who were more interested in crab and goat racing than working and targeting white women on beaches to rob and rape them.
The clip was widely condemned by various sectors of the society, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and United National Congress leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago subsequently stated that Maharaj’s contentious comments constituted a breach of Clause D9 of the concession granted to his Tunapuna-based company Central Broadcasting Services Ltd (CBSL) in a letter on Wednesday.
But Maharaj’s lawyers fired back to this with a letter of their own, saying they planned to approach the High Court to file an injunction to restrain the authority from taking any further action against the station and calling on the authority to respond in writing.
Maharaj took to TV Jaagriti yesterday afternoon to respond to TATT and the raid, flanked by his lawyers Stefan Ramkissoon and Dinesh Rambally.
“The only response we got was an invasion of the studios of radio and TV Jaagriti, rather than a response to the lawyers by letter. So I regard this, this is not only an invasion on the rights of the people, this is an invasion on my right to religion because this is a religious station,” Maharaj said.
In a release on the issue, the TTPS confirmed that officers of the Special Investigations Unit, led by Inspector Wayne Stanley, went to the station’s Pasea Main Road, Tunapuna office “with the objective of verifying the authenticity of the clip and to obtain a copy of the recording, for further investigations.”
The release said the officers met and spoke with two officials and “a search warrant for evidence under Section 13 of the Sedition Act, Chapter 11:04, was shown to them.”
The police said a master copy of an audio-visual recording was subsequently handed over to investigators. However, Rambally and Ramkissoon claimed police refused to give a copy of the warrant to the staff when they arrived on the compound yesterday. An officer involved in the raid, speaking on camera with a Jaagriti employee, said he would not do so unless given legal advice concerning the request.
Contacted yesterday, TATT’s executive officer of Corporate Communications and Administration, Sherry McMillan, confirmed the authority had contacted Jaagriti’s lawyers yesterday and confirmed they had only issued a first warning and no other action was required by either party. She said if another breach occurred, only then TATT would be prompted to take further action. McMillan also said TATT did not request that the police visit Radio Jaagriti and that they only learnt of the raid after it occurred.
In a letter yesterday, TATT acting CEO Cynthia Reddock-Downes also confirmed that the authority was taking no further sanction against Maharaj’s station regarding a possible breach of Concession Clause D9. Reddock-Downes added that TATT “does not intend to prevent or, in any way interfere with your client’s programmes from airing on any of the TV and radio stations which it currently utilises or from preventing your client from producing or hosting the programme “Maha Sabha Strikes Back.”
However, Reddock-Downes made it clear the authority reserves the right to further sanction the station should the breach reoccur and urged Maharaj to pay due regard to the obligations of the concession the station was granted and the conditions in the Draft Broadcasting Code.
But Maharaj said should TATT or the police continue to pursue action against Jaagriti, he would take the fight all the way to Privy Council.
“I want to assure the Hindu community, this will be a hell of a legal fight. This is why we didn’t join the CCJ and we prefer the Privy Council in London. We have confidence in our legal system. We have confidence in our judges and Appeal Court judges and if we are wrong, let them pronounce. I don’t want any politician to tell me I am wrong. Let the courts decide,” Maharaj said.