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Media assaulted and threatened by political thugs

By Benjamin Flowers

Staff Reporter

The media, this week, came under assault in the National Assembly for the second time in recent months as United Democratic Party (UDP) loyalists openly threatened and assaulted members of the press in front of police, with no action taken against them.

The incident has deeply troubled members of the press and one media house has even decided to make a police report against one of the UDP supporters. Meanwhile, the media is also considering its next course of action as the incident is a clear display of political intimidation.

The drama played out during the Senate Select Committee’s inquiry into allegations of corruption into the Immigration Department. The UDP fanatics interrupted Senator Eamon Courtenay from his hard line of questioning of Elvin Penner.

Committee Chair, Aldo Salazar eventually suspended the proceedings until the hecklers decided to leave on their own accord, though there is provision for Salazar to have had them forcefully removed by police escort.

Known UDP personality and current House of Representatives Mace-bearer, Brian “Yellowman” Audinett, verbally and physically assaulted members of the media during the fray, in what many now consider an open attack against the free press and democracy in Belize.

Audinett, after causing repeated disruptions in the inquiry, threatened to throw Channel 7 cameraman, Dennis Ellis, from the gallery for filming his outbursts in the Senate proceedings.

During the temporary suspension of the session, Audinett snatched a cellphone from the hands of Krem News Director, Alindy Marisol Amaya and threatened to smash it on the ground.  Audinett went as far as throwing a pen at Plus TV’s cameraman, Cirilo Choco.

Following the incident, KREM News has since written to the Commander of Belmopan police, Senior Supt. Howell Gillett, alerting him of the incident. According to KREM, it also has received legal advice that charges can be pressed against Audinett for threats of damage to property and common assault.

His actions bring to light a series of incidents where the media has come under fire for doing its job, some occurring as recently as last month, when Committee Chairman Salazar attempted to stifle the media by threatening to bar journalists from attending the inquiry.

Following a member of the press taking a photo of Church Senator, Ashley Rocke using Facebook during a session of the Senate Inquiry, Salazar warned that if the incident reccurred, the offender would be banned from attending the hearings. In contrast, Audinett received no such warning from Salazar.

In 2016, the government of Belize called in the police on media personnel waiting outside of a Ministry of Education meeting, attempting to get an interview.

The most dramatic abuse of Belizean media workers occurred in August 2016, when Channel 7 News Director, Jules Vasquez was forcibly removed from the gallery at the National Assembly, along with other members of the press.

Vasquez was dragged out of the gallery by several police officers, after asserting that he had the right to film police officers forcibly removing Cayo South Area Representative Julius Espat from the building.

Belize has fallen 11 spaces in the Free Press index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, between 2015-2017, from 30 to 41 out of 180.

Reporters Without borders cited that there were “Cases of threats, intimidation, and harassment of journalists,” being occasionally reported, as factors for the decline.

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