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Historical background: Raffique Shah is a Trinidad and Tobago trade union leader and political commentator. He is also a former Member of Parliament and mutineer, having led a mutiny of Trinidad and Tobago Regiment in 1970… 

… As a Lieutenant in the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, he led an army mutiny in 1970. In the midst of Black Power riots, the People’s National Movement government led by Eric Williams proclaimed a State of Emergency April, 1970 and arrested several Black Power leaders and Trade Unionists. In a move to prevent Williams from using the military against the masses, a portion of the Regiment stationed at Teteron (on the Chaguaramas Peninsula), led by Lieutenants Shah and Rex Lassalle mutinied. In response, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard fired on the mutineers who returned to Teteron Barracks, abandoning their foray into Port of Spain. After ten days the mutineers surrendered. The leaders were court-martialed and Shah and Lasalle were jailed. They both went on to win their appeals at the local Court of Appeal, and judges at the Privy Council in London, England, ruled against the State’s appeal in July, 1972. Shah, Lassalle and all the other mutineers were freed within 24 hours of that ruling.

This is the speech given to the court during the Court Martial Trail in 1971.

12-13 January 1971

Town Hall, Port of Spain

Mr. President, I am a soldier, and as such I am subject to Military Law. I am also a citizen of this country and I am entitled to the rights of a citizen. As an officer, I am empowered to make decisions—decisions where life and death matter. This is why an officer is commissioned in the Armed Forces. He is considered responsible enough to make such decisions that may result in thousands or maybe millions of people either being saved or killed. In every situation that an officer finds himself, he should make an evaluation and adopt the course of action that he considers best. …

My actions on April 21 [1970] and subsequent days were geared towards resolving a very explosive and potentially dangerous situation by the use of minimum force. … I was faced with a situation that would inevitably lead to violence, maybe even the loss of life. This was a situation that had a direct bearing on the entire population of this country. I made my evaluation and chose the course I considered best. … In our case, [the mutiny] did bring results. An inefficient Regiment commander was fired, a Minister responsible for the Army was relieved of his portfolio, an Inquiry was set up to look into the Administration of the Regiment …

Mr. President, members of this Court, the judgement you hand down in this trial, though it will affect me physically, is not the most important thing to me. This is because I am not really on trial. The T&T Regiment is on trial; the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is on trial; but most of all, you, Mr. President and members of this Honourable Court, are on trial. The eyes of the world, especially the Third World, are focused on you. Millions of people are closely following the proceedings of this Court. I have already faced trial. The people of this country, as elsewhere in the world, have judged me, and I have been absolved of any crime. My judges were not five, but millions. … And the people I refer to are not the elite … I do not need that type to judge me, nor do I appeal to them for their support. The people I refer to are the masses of our population – the workers, the civil servants, the students, the teachers, the labourers and the unemployed. They are the ones I am interested in, and now that I am confident of their impartial judgement, I consider myself free. My conscience is clear. I have done my duty to my soldiers, my people.

If, however, in your deliberations, Mr. President, you reject what I have said about the administration of Teteron prior to April 21, I am not like the Commander of the Defence Force … who is not man enough to speak the truth on behalf of his soldiers. I consider myself a professional soldier. I hope I shall never sink to the depths of having to betray my soldiers. I condone their actions and take full responsibility for them. …

To paraphrase Cuban national hero José Marti, in the world there must be a certain degree of decorum, just as there must be a certain amount of light. When there are many men without decorum, there are always others who bear in themselves the dignity of many men. These are the men who rebel with great force against those who steal the people’s freedom, that is to say, against those who steal human dignity itself. …

Mr. President, members of the Court, the people, the masses of the population have already chosen; it is now your turn to choose. Hanging over me are the threat of death and the threat of jail. Should I get down on my knees and beg you to spare my life? Should I prevail upon you to set me free while my brother officer, Lt. David Brizan, is in jail? No, Mr. President. If jail is the only place where men of decorum must be sent to, then let me remain there. Jail for me will be as hard as it has been for any one. In that institution, there are constant cowardly and shameless attempts to dehumanise inmates. But when a man stands up for human dignity against a regime of tyrants, he has to expect such repressive measures against him. If in this society, men like Serrette, Bloom, Christopher and Spencer are considered heroes, then let me remain a prisoner, detached from society. If freedom means accepting the violation of human rights, if freedom means accepting injustices, then I choose confinement. To live in conditions as exist in the army at present is to live in disgrace.

The authorities have sought to refer to me by many names—criminal, revolutionary, adventurer. Mr. President, if by taking up arms on April 21, 1970 to avert inevitable disaster in the Regiment, and maybe in the country, I committed a crime, then I am a criminal. If leading my soldiers at a time when they needed leadership most is a crime, then I am a criminal. If seeking better conditions in the Regiment and a better army for Trinidad is a crime, then I plead guilty. If by standing up for the truth, for human dignity, I committed a crime, then I am a criminal…

Throughout history, whenever men have sought to oppose injustices, they have been exiled, jailed or even put to death. When one so much as voices opinion against the establishment, one must be prepared to face death. Some of the greatest men in history, especially in the Third World, have been imprisoned for fighting for the rights of their people. So what if I am sent to jail for fighting for my soldiers and my people? Leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, and many others were jailed by our white colonial masters. … [In] apartheid South Africa, brother Nelson Mandela is serving a lifetime in jail. In racist USA, Sister Angela Davis and Brother Bobby Seale are among blacks facing brutality of white jails. In Rhodesia, millions of our brothers and sisters are in a state that can be considered a huge concentration camp. In Trinidad, we have 50 black soldiers being held in prisons by our Afro-Saxon Ian Smith.

Mr. President, when the authorities refer to me as a revolutionary, they flatter me. A revolutionary is the highest form of the human species; a revolutionary is higher than man, and yet a most humble human being. Few men in history have achieved this status. A revolutionary seeks change for the better; he goes all out to achieve this change, regardless of the threat of death. Among the earliest revolutionaries was Jesus Christ, and what change he brought about! Many have followed—Mahatma Gandhi in India, Malcolm X in the USA and Ché Guevara in Latin America. So you see why they flatter me when they refer to me as a revolutionary. Maybe like Ché, and in his words, I’m more of an adventurer – only of a different sort—one of those who would risk their lives to prove what they believe. On the morning of April 21, 1970, I risked my life, and even today as I stand here before you, I’m risking my life. …

Mr. President, members of the court, if you sentence me to death, then I die in glory. I die with the confidence that many have heard my cries and will stand up and defy repression. You may condemn me, but the masses have already absolved me. You may take away my liberty, but the masses of this country have already set me free. Just as I stood by my soldiers on April 21, I stand by them now. I was prepared to die then and I am even more prepared to die now. I have my convictions. I stand by them. Change in the army is inevitable, and no amount of … cheap decorations can stop that. I stand before you proud of my actions, my bid to bring about that change, my bid to give the people of this country a professional army. I have tried to be a man and for this crime I was imprisoned. Mr. President, members of this honourable court, if I cannot live like a man, then let me die like one.

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