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Johnson hits at decision to deny venue for protest

Bahamas Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson yesterday expressed concerns about “We March” organizers’ request to occupy Rawson and Parliament squares being denied, insisting that the leaders of the country must dispel the view taking root, that the denial was based on a “political premise”, something he called dangerous.

“Freedom of association to my mind, freedom of conscience and expression are deeply entrenched in our constitution,” he said.

“It does not take cognizance of political opinions.

“I understand that there has been an application by the ‘We March’ group to have a march to demonstrate concerns; selfsame concerns if you look at what happened pre-1967, what we were marching for then, our forefathers, in terms of land, the liberation of land, education, healthcare and all those different things.

“What concerns me is that these are fundamental constitutional rights and we have to be careful in the denial of those rights.

“The constitution prescribes how those rights are to be constrained and that is in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.

“We must be very careful when dealing with these rights that one does not get the impression that the consideration in curtailing those rights is based on a political view or political opinion.”

Johnson said the executive must respond with “good reason” and must be “fair”.

He indicated that the ‘We March’ group has not demonstrated itself to be a threat in any form outlined that would require it being denied access to protest and encouraged Bahamians to show up “to take a nice stroll on the sidewalk”.

“You may not be able to have a march, but no one can prevent you from having a stroll on the sidewalk,” said Johnson, though he noted that it was important to operate within the rule of law.

The organizers of ‘We March Bahamas’ still plan to lead a march in downtown Nassau on January 10 despite the Cabinet Office denying their request to occupy Rawson and Parliament squares as they did on November 25.

John Bostwick, one of the organizers, said participants will march around the area if they have to.

In a letter on Wednesday, the Cabinet Office said the march conflicts with another event.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts recently confirmed that the PLP plans to march on January 10th in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Majority Rule.

The march will end in Parliament Square.

Organizers also noted that the government changed the date of the Majority Rule holiday from January 9 to January 10.

Johnson said the community and the world are watching and the executive ought to be careful.

He said the commissioner of police in exercising his discretion must be seen to be “insulated from any political interference”.

“I take him to be a fair and reasonable man,” Johnson said.

“It is either yes or it is either no. They are not coming, saying they want to take the country.

“… It has to be reasonable and you ought to give them these circumstances, cogent reasons as to why they can’t do it.

“That’s how the law is.”

Johnson recommended that organizers of ‘We March’ approach the court to have the matter reviewed if they are not provided cogent reasoning for being denied.

Last month, hundreds of protestors showed up for the group’s march and occupation of downtown Nassau.

The group is calling for more transparent and accountable government.

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