The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today strongly condemns a recent police raid into the offices of the Express newspaper in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Togabo.
On March 11, the police raided the office of the paper’s editor-in-chief, Omatie Lyder, in search of material that could be used to identify a journalistic source the paper had used. On the previous day, the Express had published an investigative report into suspicious banking activity involving the transfer of $2 million into numerous bank accounts belonging to the acting police commissioner Irwin Hackshaw.
“Raiding a newspaper office in an attempt to force journalists to reveal their sources is a serious violation of press freedom”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “This action raises clear questions about Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to protecting the media’s rights to cover public interest issues. We urge the government to take all necessary steps to reverse the damage done by this raid, including the immediate return of all material taken from the Express offices.”
Upon entering the offices of the Express, the paper’s lawyers noted that the warrant used by the police was vague and unlawful. Following this, the police officers went and received a new warrant, which they used to raid Lyder’s offices. A photographer for the newspaper and a cameraman for TV6 tried to accompany the police officers into the office but were ordered out of it by the officers. After their search, the police confiscated four flash drives from the offices.
Troublingly, the raid to expose the source was conducted while Hacksaw was still in the role of the acting police commissioner. After the paper published its report on the suspicious funds, the Financial Investigative Unit (FIU) was notified and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has also launched its own probe into the matter.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, and the minister of National Security, Stuart Young, both told the Express on 12 March that they were not aware of the raid nor had they been briefed on it.