PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jun 13, CMC – Three weeks after being questioned to determine their suitability to hear the charges against Muslim Leader Yasin Abu Bakr, the nine-member jury began hearing testimony in the case. More than 700 potential jurors were summoned for the selection process.
When the trial resumes later on Wednesday, the prosecution is expected to tender into evidence a video recording from a television station showing Bakr, delivering an Eid-ul-Fitr sermon to members of his Jamaat-Al-Muslimeen group on November 4, 2005.
Bakr , 70, is charged with communicating a statement having seditious intention, two counts of inciting to demand with menaces with intent to steal and endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace.
Before the trial began, Justice Mark Mohammed warned the jurors and the six alternates against allowing their knowledge of the events of July 27, 1990 when Bakr led a group of more than 100 men in a failed bid to overthrow the then ANR Robinson government here to cloud or affect their judgement.
He said “it would be wrong also for you to take into account the defendant’s age and ill health,” in apparent reference to Bakr’s diabetic condition.
Justice Mohammed also warned jurors who may have a Muslim background to avoid using their knowledge of “Zakaat”, which is similar to the paying of tithes in the Christian community in determing the case.
In her opening address, Senior Counsel Dana Seethal said Bakr, in his sermon which lasted just over an hour, told his followers, among other things, that he could foresee a war in the Muslim community in which lives could be lost over the collection and distribution of zakaat.
The sermon was captured on tape by Mano Ragbir, a cameraman employed with the CNC3 television station. The court was told that excerpts from the sermon were shown during that station’s nightly newscast with deputy head of news, Sampson Nanton anchoring the story. Both Ragbir and Nanton are expected to testify on behalf of the State.
The testimonies of five witnesses have already been tendered into evidence including that of Brent Stewart, the video editor at CNC3, who, after the news item was aired, received a call from a police officer attached to the Special Branch requesting a copy of the tape.
The court was told that the copy was handed over by Stewart following consultations with the head of news, Rosemarie Sant.