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Teen seeks justice after ‘terrorist’ label ... Seeking compensation from State for trauma suffered from being detained on trip to see grandmother, aunt

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle - Contributor

A teenager who was detained by the police for 10 days in April 2015 at a juvenile detention centre in Kingston on suspicion that he was planning to join a terrorist group in Turkey, is now fighting a legal battle for the government to compensate him for the trauma and distress he has been suffering since the incident.

Ackeem Hunter, a Jamaican, says he was wrongfully accused because he was only going to spend a week with his grandmother and aunt in The Netherlands and it was not true that he was headed to Turkey to join the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Right now I am still having flashbacks and sleepless nights about the ordeal and still face ridicule from people in my community in St Mary because of the false allegations of terrorism,” Hunter told The Sunday Gleaner.

While on Easter holiday in 2015, Hunter, who was then a 16-year-old high school student, was given permission by his father to make the trip overseas and the ticket was purchased at a travel agency in Jamaica. He said he was advised by a travel agent that the most convenient route would be from Kingston to Trinidad and Tobago, then on to Suriname with a stopover in Turkey, and then to The Netherlands. He said the travel agent told him that a European visa was not required for the trip because he only needed an online transit visa for Turkey and, based on that information, the ticket was purchased for his trip.

When he went to the Norman Manley International Airport on April 10, 2015, he was detained by the police and questioned about his religion and asked personal details about his father before he was allowed to board the flight. He landed in Trinidad and Tobago where he was questioned about his trip. When he reached Suriname he was also questioned, and when he enquired about the reason for the interrogation he was told that it was because he was questioned in Jamaica. He was then sent back from Suriname to Jamaica and, on his arrival, he was detained by the police. Hunter says he was told on April 13, 2015, that he was being arrested on suspicion of conspiring with others to finance terrorism and/or facilitating terrorism and participating in activities surrounding terrorist groups and terrorist activity.

“I felt helpless and frightened when I heard those allegations because I could not believe what I was hearing,” he said. He was then handcuffed and taken to the Metcalfe Street Secure Juvenile Centre where he was placed in a cell with other boys for 10 days. Hunter recounted that he could not sleep or eat during those days and felt very depressed. He said he was also attacked and beaten by the boys in the cell and during one of the attacks, he lost a tooth. He was only released from custody after attorney-at-law Zara Lewis filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Kingston and St Andrew Family Court for the relevant authorities to show cause why his detention should continue and his freedom remain restrained.

Studies affected

The case attracted wide media coverage both locally and abroad and Hunter said that also caused him great embarrassment and distress, and also affected his studies.

Hunter’s father subsequently instructed Lewis to file a claim in the Supreme Court in 2017 seeking compensation from the government for breaches of his son’s constitutional rights, and they are seeking compensation amounting to $6 million. The claim includes damages for false imprisonment, constitutional or vindicatory damages and exemplary and aggravated damages, as well as legal costs.

However, the claim is still pending and young Hunter, who has since completed high school, says he is hoping that the government will settle the matter quickly and compensate him for the injustice done to him so he can be relieved of some of the daily challenges he faces.


... Forensic report finds Hunter withdrawn, angry

Dr Samantha Longmore-Mills, who examined Ackeem Hunter in 2016, states in her forensic report that “he has become withdrawn from others and now becomes angry more easily. Ackeem has moderately elevated anxiety, depressive and disruptive symptoms. He displays significant post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and his emotional intelligence is currently low. Based on the assessment, Akeem Hunter was found to be experiencing post-traumatic disorder and major depressive disorder, moderate.”

On being asked what was the latest development with the case, Lewis, who is representing the Hunters, said the case, in which the commissioner of police and the attorney general are the defendants, went to mediation two weeks ago. She said the government lawyers in the case said they received no instruction from the police and mediation is now set for October 25.

Lewis has described the defence filed to the claim as weak because the police had no reasonable or probable cause to detain Hunter.

But the defence filed in response to the claim states that Hunter is not entitled to any compensation.

The defendants have admitted that Hunter was questioned upon his return from Suriname by the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) in relation to suspicious international travel patterns.

They say that suspicion was first aroused when Hunter went to the Norman Manley International Airport on April 10, 2015 and was not in possession of a return ticket from Istanbul to Amsterdam. It aroused the suspicion of a customer service representative and the police were called in. Hunter was interviewed by officers from the National Intelligence Bureau and then allowed to travel after receiving a return ticket.

The defendants contend that Hunter was not allowed to enter Turkey because his journey was enveloped in suspicion. In denying the claim, they say that having regard to police intelligence from international partners and the fact that Hunter (initially) did not have a return ticket from Instanbul, there was reasonable cause for his detention at the Metcalfe Street Centre.

The defendants say Hunter was taken before the Family Court on April 13, 2005 and an order was made for him to be remanded at the juvenile centre.

In addition to Hunter’s claim that it had never been proven that he was involved in terrorist activity, the defendants say that the investigation and subsequent detention were initiated with reasonable and probable cause in the circumstances.