February 25, 2005

No bail for Grenada 17

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Supreme Court has ruled that a group of prisoners serving life sentences for their involvement in the 1983 coup in Grenada must remain in jail.

The prisoners, who are among a group known as the Grenada Seventeen, were convicted of killing the then Prime Minister of Grenada Maurice Bishop and four of his cabinet members.{{more}}

One of the prisoners is former deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard.

On Monday, the Court overturned a decision made last year by the Grenada High Court that ruled that the defendants’ sentences were unconstitutional.

The High Court ruling had applied to the original death sentences, which were handed down in 1986, and the 1992 commutation of those sentences to life imprisonment.

Bishop, who was Grenada’s first left wing Prime Minister, came to power in 1979 after overthrowing the government of then Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy.

Grenada newspaper publisher Leslie Pierre, who covered the original court case and most of the appeal, told BBC Caribbean Radio he thinks it is time the prisoners are released.

“It is appalling the Court of Appeal could uphold any idea of keeping these men in prison after all these years, after being railroaded into prison because the Americans wanted these ‘communists’ out of the way.”

Pierre said the OECS court ruling must be challenged in the Privy Council even though it will be viewed as further dragging out the process.

“Justice must be done, that is what they say the court system is all about and these men deserve to be freed.

“I only hope we get it to the Privy Council soon and that they make the wise and just decision and free these poor people and pay them the compensation they deserve,” Pierre told BBC Caribbean Radio.

But while some in Grenada are ready to forgive Coard and his group for the crimes, others are not yet prepared to have them released.

One major point of contention is the fact that the victims’ bodies have never been recovered.

Former leader of the now defunct Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement, Terrence Marryshow, told BBC Caribbean Radio last year that the government must play a part in revealing exactly what happened during those days in 1983.

He said they must give the relatives of the dead some form of explanation as to where the remains lie before the matter can be closed.