A Black Lives Matter supporter has accused the PSNI of “blatant institutional racism” after he was interviewed by police following his attendance at two Belfast rallies held last month.
Cuthbert Tura Arutura (46) voluntarily attended a police interview at a PSNI station yesterday while under caution.
He may face charges under the Serious Crime Act and the Magistrates NI Court Order 1981.
The community activist denies doing anything wrong.
Mr Arutura, a married father-of-three whose wife is a police officer, told the Belfast Telegraph the matter has been deeply stressful for his loved ones, stressing he is “proud” that they are a “police family”.
The Zimbabwean native, who moved to Northern Ireland nearly three decades ago, was a speaker at the Black Lives Matter protest at Custom House Square on June 6.
Three days earlier he also attended a rally at Belfast City Hall at which a number of protesters were given fines by police officers.
Between 60 and 70 fines were issued to BLM supporters at the event, as well as those who attended a rally in Londonderry.
The protests were sparked by the killing of African-American George Floyd by a police officer in the United States, which sparked worldwide outrage.
At the time, coronavirus health regulations stipulated that no more than six people could gather in groups outdoors.
The PSNI’s handling of the BLM events has been the subject of much criticism and controversy, including accusations it had treated them differently to other large gatherings.
It is understood Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which imposed fines on BLM supporters.
The Police Ombudsman is probing the matter.
A ‘protect our statues’ protest, which was held at Belfast City Hall and was attended by hundreds of people did not result in any immediate fines being issued. The PSNI has said it would use CCTV footage in an effort to identify individuals who had attended the rally.
It was asked yesterday by this newspaper to disclose how many, if any, had been identified or questioned in relation to the event. In response, the PSNI said last night that “no files” have been sent to the PPS “at this time”.
The spokesperson added inquiries in the event are continuing.
A number of high-profile funerals have also seen large gatherings, including that of veteran republican Bobby Storey.
Politicians who attended, in particular Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, were heavily criticised and accused of breaching regulations they were responsible for and had imposed on the public.
The matter is the subject of a police investigation.
The offences under which Mr Arutura was questioned under caution accuse the record producer and dance choreographer of aiding and abetting others by “encouraging” them to break the health regulations, according to his solicitor.
Mr Arutura, who read out a pre-prepared statement during his interview, said the whole affair had been “unsettling and stressful” for him and his family,
“It’s been really stressful. It has really taken its toll on my family. We are a proud police family,” he said.
He said the PSNI “displays double standards in the way it has treated black people, in fact African black people”.
“The way we have been treated is with blatant racism. It is clear now that the PSNI, like many other institutions in this country, is institutionally racist.”
Stressing there are good PSNI officers, he said the police had displayed “unfair treatment”.
“Nobody has been pursued like the way we’ve been pursued. It’s out in the open that it’s blatantly institutionally racist,” he said.
“I’m a father of three daughters. I would not let them down by making racism acceptable.”
Sinead Marmion from Phoenix Law is representing Mr Arutura. She said she firmly believed it is “not in the public’s interest” for her client to be prosecuted and brought before the courts.
She said that she expected the PPS to receive a file in relation to the matter.
“Mr Arutura is not charged and he attended voluntarily an interview on the basis of Section 44 of the serious crime act 2007 and section 59 of the Magistrates’ Court Order 1981, both of which are in relation to the aiding, abetting and the procuring or counselling on the commissioning of an offence.
“The breach in question is the coronavirus regulations. What police are saying is that by speaking at the protest he has kept people there in breach of the coronavirus regulations.
“We are questioning the lawfulness of that interpretation of the regulations, in terms of the definition of a gathering. My client went to both protests alone. He maintained distancing on both occasions, and in our view did not breach any regulation.
“Nor by virtue of speaking at the event, did he aide and abet anyone else to breach the coronavirus regulations.”
In response, a spokesperson for the PSNI said: “While we do not comment on named individuals, we can confirm that no files have been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service at this time and our investigations remain ongoing.”