ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, June 28, 2007 – Three convicted murderers in a 1983 coup that overthrew the Maurice Bishop Administration, originally sentenced to death, have been freed by the High Court in Grenada bringing to seven the number released since 2000.
The three who were ordered to be released are Christopher Stroude, Lester Redhead and Cecil Prime.
The original death sentences were appealed to the British Privy Council which overturned the sentence in February this year and sent it back to the Grenada judiciary for new and non-capital punishment sentences. That hearing started last week Monday.
Presiding judge, Justice Francis Bell said he was releasing the three because of good behaviour while in jail over the last 21 years and because they showed remorse and compassion by inviting victims and relatives of the victims to the prison to personally apologise to them.
“I don’t accept that they are future risks to the society,” he said.
The remaining 10 have been sentenced to a total of 40 years with hard labour. Under the penal system, they would all be eligible for release in another six years when they serve two thirds of the sentence. The law provides for up to one third of the sentence being reduced under certain circumstances such as good behaviour.
Saturday, March 18 2000 – Phyllis Coard, the only woman prisoner, was released from Richmond Hill Prison to seek treatment for colon cancer. She was denied entry into Britain where two of her children lived so she went to her native Jamaica for chemotherapy.
Saturday December 2, 2006 – Three others had one third of their sentences reduced and were released after serving 20 years. They were: Andy Mitchell, Vincent Joseph and Cosmos Richardson were convicted on eleven counts of manslaughter.
Wednesday June 27, 2007 – Three more were shown leniency and released early. There are: Christopher Stroude, Lester Redhead and Cecil Prime who were convicted of murder and sentenced to die. Their sentences were overturned by the British Privy Council which ordered the Grenada High Court to pass new sentenced.
THOSE WHO REMAIN
The 10 that remain have been sentenced to 40 years. It is unclear whether it is retroactive to their arrests in 1983 – the year they overthrew the Maurice Bishop government – or 1986 when they were sentenced. They are: Former deputy prime minister Bernard Coard (who wife was released in 2000), Hudson Austin, Ewart Layne, Selwyn Strachan, Liam James, Leon Cornwall, Dave Bartholomew, John Ventour, Colville McBarnette, and Calistus Bernard.
(Source Amnesty International’s Historical Context: The Grenada Revolution)
The case of the Grenada 17 must be seen in the broader geo-political context of the Cold War and its impact upon the Caribbean and the Americas. In the early 1980s the US administration feared the advance of communism and the growth of the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. This led it to take action against various countries. For example, the US government sponsored armed opposition to the government of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua which came to power following the 1979 revolution. The Sandinista era had begun soon after the Grenada Revolution.
On 13 March 1979, the New Jewel Movement (NJM), a political party of the left, overthrew the Grenada United Labour Party government led by Eric Gairy. The NJM forcibly removed the Gairy government from power on 13 March 1979 whilst Gairy was visiting the USA.(2) The resulting NJM government, which included non-members of the NJM, became known as the Peoples’ Revolutionary Government (PRG) and their policies and programmes became known as the Grenada Revolution.
The new government implemented economic and social reform in areas including health care, education, housing, and women’s and children’s rights. International funding agencies observed a marked improvement in the economy.(3) Amnesty International raised concerns around alleged violations of human rights that occurred under the NJM government, including detention without trial of over 100 people, including journalists. In 1981, an Amnesty International delegation visited Grenada to discuss the organization’s concerns with the authorities.
Divisions appeared to exist among the members of the NJM leadership. The divisions were focused mainly on two key leaders of the NJM: Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Bernard Coard. While Bishop enjoyed broad popular support among the Grenadian population, Coard enjoyed the support of a majority of the NJM Central Committee.
The growing chasm within the NJM reached a critical point during the summer of 1983, when the Coard faction led a public challenge to Bishop. The crisis led to negotiations within the NJM Central Committee.
The Crime: The Murders of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and Others
In 1983, the Coard faction attempted to get Maurice Bishop to accept a power-sharing role. The Prime Minister requested time to decide on whether or not to accept the power sharing scheme but by October the Coard faction decided to force Bishop out of the government. On the evening of 13 October 1983 the People’s Revolutionary Army in conjunction with the Coard faction placed Prime Minister Bishop and several of his supporters under house arrest.
Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, backed by other NJM leaders resisted the Coard faction. On October 19 there was a popular uprising in support of Bishop, seeking to restore him to power. Crowds estimated at between 15,000 to 30,000 persons shut down workplaces, poured into the streets of the capital, St. George’s, and freed Bishop from house arrest. Bishop and his followers immediately went to Fort Rupert in order to regroup and gauge the situation.
Meanwhile, Bernard Coard and the nine members of the Central Committee who supported him, along with factions of the military, had grouped at Fort Frederick. These troops, under the leadership of a 25-year old officer, then travelled the short distance to Fort Rupert. Upon their arrival, gunfire broke out between the troops and those at Fort Rupert, killing and wounding somewhere between 60 and 150 men, women and children. Prime Minister Bishop ordered one of his supporters to immediately negotiate a surrender in order to prevent any further bloodshed. Military forces loyal to Coard captured Fort Rupert. Bishop, Fitzroy Bain, Norris Bain, Jacqueline Creft, Vincent Noel, and Unison Whiteman were singled out, detained and summarily executed in the Fort’s courtyard.