Another Office of the President criminal took the stand in the case against Kissoon vs. King Kong Jagdeo
Jason Abdulla, a contracted Government Information Agency (GINA) employee stationed at the Office of the President (OP), testified yesterday that over the last few weeks he had been tasked with compiling articles written by columnist Freddie Kissoon in the Kaieteur News about former president Bharrat Jagdeo and the government.
Abdulla is the third witness in the $10 million libel suit brought by Jagdeo against Kissoon and the Kaieteur News. His appearance comes before the testimony of the second witness Raul Kissoon, a media monitor, has been completed. Kissoon last testified on April 16.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon was the first witness to testify.
Moments after the case was called before Justice Brassington Reynolds yesterday, one Jagdeo’s lawyers, Sase Gunraj, stated that Raul Kissoon was no longer employed at OP. He did not indicate why Kissoon left the job but said, “in an effort to further protect the proceedings we have another person from the same department doing the same functions so that we can tender these exhibits [copies of the allegedly offensive articles]”.
During his evidence in chief, Abdulla, who described himself as a media officer, said that some of his duties include monitoring the print and electronic media on a daily basis and compiling articles that are critical of both the president and government. He said these stories are then referred to the relevant persons for response before being stored for record-keeping purposes.
The witness explained to the court that subsequent to the last court date, he was mandated to examine articles by Freddie Kissoon, which had in their contents words such as “dictatorship”, “dictator”, “King Kong” and “fascism”.
He said that while executing the task he found articles in copies of Kaieteur News from the period of the libel suit to present time which are collected and kept at OP. He was unclear of the exact date he started from and said that it was somewhere in October 2010.
Abdulla, while being led in his evidence by Gunraj, said he found copies of articles containing the words he had previously mentioned and they were photocopied and filed to be presented in court.
Asked how he knew who the writer of the articles was, he said that Freddie Kissoon’s name was stated along with his photograph. After being shown several copies of newspaper articles, he confirmed that those were the ones he had found and compiled. He said the originals were contained in bound volumes.
He later went though nine articles, giving their dates and reading the sections that contained the words he had previously mentioned.
Freddie Kissoon’s lawyer Nigel Hughes later objected stating that he could see no relevance as there was no reference to the statement of claim in the articles, the first of which was headlined ‘Dogs of Politics’.
Gunraj, however, submitted that the tendering of the newspaper copies was relevant for proof of exemplary damages as well as to show that the newspaper columnist displayed what can be described as “a morbid obsession” with Jagdeo. He said they did not have to relate specifically to the libel complained of but rather touch on the concerns of the plaintiff (Jagdeo) and the government he led at the time of the complaint.
After hearing submissions from both sides, the judge allowed Abdulla to continue giving his evidence. Justice Brassington after hearing parts of each of the copies of the newspaper articles from the witness, allowed six to be tendered as evidence.
Not a blogger
Later, during cross-examination by Hughes, Abdulla denied that he worked for PPP controlled hate blog adding that he only became familiar with its existence through the newspaper. He told the court that he has never visited the website and was not familiar with any of its contributors.
When asked if he denied that he was one of the principal architects and contributors to that website, Abdulla replied, “I so do”, before sucking his teeth. Throughout the cross-examination by Hughes, the witness appeared to be upset and on several occasions sucked his teeth and sighed.
He later confirmed that he was the son of the late Errol `Taps’ Butcher, who had been prosecuted and jailed on drug charges and later killed in a drive-by shooting in 2002.
When he was asked the question, Senior Counsel Bernard De Santos, who is Jagdeo’s lead counsel, objected, saying he did not see the relevance of the witness’s relationship with Butcher to the proceedings. The judge then asked the witness to leave the courtroom. After a brief exchange between the two lawyers, Abdulla returned to the stand after the judge ruled that he would allow the question to be asked and the answer recorded.
Asked who his employer is, the witness responded, “the Government of Guyana” and later, when asked if he was employed in a specific department, he said “GINA” and that he had a written contract.
Again, De Santos objected to the line of questioning on the grounds that it was irrelevant: “All I ask is where is the evidence; he [Hughes] hasn’t shown me anything that makes this relevant.”
When Hughes asked the court to look at the first line of the witness’s testimony that he was employed by OP, De Santos erupted angrily: “I may not be hearing well, but I heard him say more than once that he is employed by the Government of Guyana and attached to OP.” He then accused Hughes of trying to misrepresent what the witness had said.
Abdulla then emphatically stated that he was employed by GINA. Asked who in government he reports to, he responded “everybody”.
When prompted to name four such persons, he said, Neaz Subhan, Kwame McCoy, Clement Rohee and Dr Roger Luncheon, later acknowledging that Subhan is the only one of the four employed at GINA.
He told the court that he was unaware of what the word fascism meant but knew how it was spelt. He was then asked to spell the word to the court which he did correctly. He said he only looked for that word in reference to Jagdeo and his government.
Abdulla will return to court on June 8 when the cross-examination will continue.
De Santos informed the court that the possibility exists that one more witness will be called to the stand before he closes his case.
In July of last year, Jagdeo, filed the libel suit against Kissoon, Editor of the Kaieteur News Adam Harris and the paper’s owner Glenn Lall over a June 28, 2010 article titled ‘King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference’, which he claimed portrayed him as an ideological racist.