Close this window to return to the main menu

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter

On the suspension of the constitution and the ousting of the PPP Government, the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, declared a state of emergency throughout the country. The officer ranks of the police force were doubled in very quick time, and a detention centre was prepared at the Atkinson Field Air Base. Five PPP leaders - Sydney King, Rory Westmaas, Martin Carter, Ajodha Singh and Bally Lachmansingh - were on 24 October 1953 arrested and locked up in this detention camp. Lachmansingh was released not too long after due to ill health, but the others remained in detention without trial for 81 days and they were finally released on 12 January 1954. But they were restricted to their residential districts and had to report to the police two times a week.

Meanwhile, the PPP launched a campaign of civil disobedience, even though some leading members felt that such a campaign was non-revolutionary. The British authorities on the other hand were determined to crush the Party, and the police and the British army carried out raids on the homes of its leaders, many of whom had to obtain police permission to travel out from their areas of residence. Brindley Benn, an executive member of the PPP was restricted to New Amsterdam, while Ram Karran, treasurer of the PPP, was restricted to Bel Air. Cheddi and Janet Jagan were restricted to Georgetown from 1 April 1954. Others placed under residential restriction at the same time were Chrisna Ramsarran, and Eric Huntley. Many other party activists were under permanent observation by the police, while others had to report daily to police stations. Numerous Party members were charged with varying offences ostensibly for breaching the emergency regulations, and some who refused to pay the fines were sentenced to prison terms.

In Berbice, Nazrudeen and Fred Bowman were charged with sedition, but they won their cases through the efforts of their brilliant defence consul, the British lawyer D.N. Pritt. Nazrudeen himself and 74 other persons were also arrested for participating in a May Day procession at Skeldon.

Under the state of emergency, public meetings and gatherings were banned, but this applied only to the PPP, since pro-British political groups were granted permission to hold meetings. PPP leaders were harassed and even their presence at religious ceremonies was regarded by the police as political activity.

This repression by the British colonial authorities and the Interim Government was condemned by the weekly newspaper, the Clarion, a bitter critic of the PPP, when in July 1954 it accused the police and the magistrates of abusing their powers. The newspaper condemned the police for its "campaign of naked brutality against private citizens", and the magistracy for abusing its power "by giving ample support to these police outrages."

Senior civil servants who had showed loyalty to the ousted PPP Government also felt the iron hand of the Interim Government. They were removed from key posts or were refused promotion.

Organisations such as the Demerara Youth Rally, the Pioneer Youth League and the British Guiana Peace Committee were banned on 15 December 1953. And in May 1954, the police, in the effort to clamp down on PPP political activities, closed down the Party's Regent Street headquarters.

In keeping with the Party's policy of civil disobedience, Dr. Jagan broke the restriction order on 3 April by travelling to Mahaicony where he had a branch dental surgery. He was arrested and taken to Georgetown where he was charged and brought before a magistrate. After a preliminary hearing, he was placed on bail and released. As he was walking back to his dental clinic, a crowd of supporters gathered behind him, and immediately the police re-arrested him and 15 others and locked up them in a small cell at the Brickdam Police Station in Georgetown. Others who were eventually charged for demonstrating (or following Dr. Jagan) were Janet Jagan, Rory Westmaas, Martin Carter, Eustace Sam, Eric Braithwaite, P. Sampson, and three others.

Dr. Jagan appeared before Magistrate Guy Sharples the next morning and refused to put up a defence saying that he should not be the one on trial. He told the magistrate that the Governor and the British Government were the ones who should be facing judgement in the court.

The magistrate sentenced him to six months imprisonment with hard labour. This sentence was roundly condemned even by the supporters of the Interim Government and the British Government. The London Tribune stated: "This is one of the most cowardly and miserable acts of British imperialism since the war."

Dr. Jagan began his prison term at the Camp Street jail in Georgetown, but because of his persistence in holding group discussions on social and political issues with other prisoners, he and other PPP political prisoners, including Ram Karran, (who was jailed in July for four months for breaking his restrictions), were kept in a separate section of the prison. But because there were constant demonstrations by PPP supporters on the streets outside the jail, Dr. Jagan, Ram Karran and two other PPP political prisoners were later transferred to the Mazaruni prison in Essequibo.

After spending five months in prison, Dr. Jagan was released having obtained one month off for good behaviour. His initial release date was 11 September 1954, but since he refused to ready himself for a 4.00 a.m. release instead of the normal 6.00 a.m. release time, he was kept an extra day in prison. The authorities wanted him to leave the jail before daybreak to frustrate the large crowd that was building up to greet him. Nevertheless, on the 12 September a large crowd was on hand to greet him as he walked out from the Camp Street jail.

A few days before Dr. Jagan was released, Janet Jagan was charged by the police for being in possession of a secret Police Riot Manual and for holding a public meeting. The Manual was planted in her house by the police, and the "public meeting" was actually a Hindu religious ceremony which she attended in West Demerara. She was sentenced to prison for six months with hard labour. She served a difficult period of five months and was released almost half-starved on 18 January 1955.

During 1954, the police also charged PPP leaders and supporters under the Undesirable Publications Ordinance. Those charged in June included Dr. Joseph Lachmansingh, Jane Phillips Gay, Ashton Chase, Janet Jagan, Mohamed Khan, Nazrudeen, Brindley Benn, Lancelot Benn, Pat Philips, Vernon Thomas and his grandmother Caroline Azore.

At Vreed-en-hoop, Pandit Misir, Lloyd Duncan, Vincent George, Lawrence Vincent and Edwin Mercurius were charged with violating the emergency regulations. In July 1954, Rory Westmaas, Martin Carter and Fred Bowman were jailed for three months, and in September, Eric Huntley was sentenced to eight months in prison - all on charges for breaching the emergency regulations.

In August 1954, eight PPP activists were held in detention without trial for periods up to nine months. Those detained were Neville Annibourne, Oudit Jagan, Sookdeo Kawal, Sydney Kuttain, Isaac Etwaru, Bisoon Persaud, Pooran Goolcharran and Eddie Goolcharran.