By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed as “untrue” claims that Dominican poachers incarcerated at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services are being mistreated.
In a statement released yesterday, the ministry rejected the allegations circulating on social media saying the Bahamas is committed to abiding by all international laws with respect to prisoners.
The issue sparked heated debate between Bahamians and Dominicans in some groups on Facebook and led some of the families of the fishermen to protest in the Dominican Republic earlier this week.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has learned of reports circulating in the media in the Dominican Republic and also on social media that Dominican Republic fishermen incarcerated at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services in Nassau are being mistreated,” the statement read.
“The ministry has investigated this matter and confirms that these claims are untrue. Furthermore, the ministry has been in contact with the ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the Bahamas and the honorary consul of the Dominican Republic in the Bahamas regarding this matter.
“The Bahamas is committed to abiding by all international laws with respect to the incarceration of all prisoners, in particular to ensure the provision of food, water, exercise, attention to medical concerns and other matters.”
It was claimed in a Dominican Today report published on Monday that the men have complained about being held in a narrow cell with little ventilation.
They also say they have not been allowed to contact their families, food is limited and there is insufficient water to drink, according to the report.
It was also claimed baths are few and there are no toilets, adding the Dominicans have been forced to resort to using buckets and bottles to relieve themselves.
The Tribune has reported previously how some inmates incarcerated at the BDOC have complained about overcrowding, a lack of toilets in some of the cell blocks and the use of slop buckets for bodily functions.
In August, 46 Dominican poachers were fined over $3m during a special sitting of the Magistrate’s Court.
The poaching vessel’s captain was also convicted of two additional charges relating to possession of weaponry and sentenced to a total of 30 months in prison.
According to a Royal Bahamas Defence Force statement released on Saturday, all 46 poachers changed their pleas from “not guilty” to “guilty” on charges relating to illegal fishing in Bahamian waters.
On July 8, the Dominicans were arrested by RBDF vessel HMBS Madeira aboard their vessel “Ronnye”, approximately 20 nautical miles south east of Cay Lobos.
HMBS Madeira was under the command of Senior Lieutenant William Sturrup. Approximately 33,000 pounds of fishery products were confiscated from the Dominican vessel.
On July 12, the fishermen appeared before Magistrate Kara Turnquest and were charged with illegal foreign fishing; possession of a grouper less than three pounds; possession of fresh crawfish during the closed season; possession of undersized crawfish and possession of prohibited apparatus.
Radhames Hernandez, the boat captain, was also charged with possession of an unlicensed shotgun and possession of ammunition.
At the time, the men pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During the August 10 hearing, all of the Dominicans pleaded “guilty” and were convicted and fined $53,000 each, the RBDF noted.
Hernandez was also convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for firearm possession and one year for possession of a shot gun and ammunition. Those sentences are to run concurrently.
Another poacher was fined $100,000 due to this being his second conviction for poaching in Bahamian waters.
“All of the men were remanded in custody at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services and will be deported on completion of jail time or payment of fines,” the statement added.
On June 16, four Dominican fishermen aboard a 50ft Dominican fishing vessel, “Brailyn”, were arrested for poaching in the Great Bahama Bank.
They were apprehended by RBDF vessel HMBS Durward Knowles, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Omarv Saunders.
These Dominicans were also charged before the courts in Nassau. Three of them were fined $20,000 or eight months in prison, and the fourth was fined $10,000 or four months in prison.