PARAMARIBO--Eugene van der San, Suriname’s brand new Minister of Justice and Police provoked the ire of locals on Monday, when he told an audience of Chinese nationals that they should be allowed to mow down criminals.

Speaking in Sranan Tongo at a memorial service Tuesday for a man and his son who were burned to death by robbers, the Minister said that he wants to propose an amendment to the criminal code that would make it possible. “Wan mogelijkheid mus fu de, dat ye kan sut’en trowe,” Van der San said, which literally translates to: “[One way or the other – Ed.] there should be a possibility for you to just shoot them down.” The Minister said it may sound harsh, “but there seem to be no other ways left to stop these ‘abani’ [monsters – Ed.] and criminals in this country.”

Van der San was speaking at the Chinese school in Paramaribo, where hundreds of Chinese nationals had gathered to pay their respects to supermarket owner Lin Zhi Di and his son Lin Yan, a teenager. The two died on April 4, when robbers set fire to their supermarket in the village of Santi Kondre in the Tapanahony area in District Sipaliwini. The storeowner had apparently refused to open the door when the robbers ordered him to; the criminals then set the building on fire in retaliation. Their charred remains were found the next morning amongst the rubble.

Police have investigated but no one has been arrested so far in this case. The Suriname Chinese United Association (SCUA) urged all associated businesspeople to close their businesses on Tuesday, to attend the memorial service for the slain father and son. The association had initially intended to keep a quiet march through Paramaribo to call attention to the violent crimes that its members fall victim to, but called it off later.

Minister Van der San said he would ask the army to assist police in the battle against crime. “They should act mercilessly against people who act criminally, even if these are Surinamers. A Surinamer who loves his country does not act this way in his country,” he said, hinting at the criminals who killed the Lins.

Van der San said the Chinese nationals deserve protection “because criminals seem to think that these people have a lot of money.” He spoke with disdain of “thoughts that people – especially afro-Surinamers from town and Maroons – seem to have that the Chinese are profiteers who came here to make a quick buck to send back home to China. Those are wrong thoughts,” he said.

He said legal advisers at his Ministry were now looking for a legal nuance, especially in the interest of Chinese supermarket owners. “I am not going to tell you that we’ll reintroduce the death penalty in Suriname, but there will be an addendum to the law. A store owner should be allowed to demand that a suspicious person leave his store. And if that person refuses, the store owner should be allowed to take the necessary action.”

The Minister’s remarks were not well received in society.

One person pointed out that what Van der San wants to propose is unconstitutional. “Article 66 of the Criminal Code provides ample opportunities for people to defend themselves, within the confines of the law. In addition, in 2010 Parliament already passed an amendment to this article that still provides for self-defence within the law. He could have looked this up on the Parliament website before he said anything.”

Several others remarked that the Minister had declared open season for Chinese on black people in particular. “Do the foreigners now have more rights than local people? Doesn’t this allow them to kill people at will and then claim that it was self-defence?” asked one woman. She pointed at several instances in the recent past where Chinese storeowners were caught on camera showing no respect for locals and taking the law in their hands when they caught someone stealing.

This was one of Van der San’s first public appearances since he was sworn in as Minister of Justice and Police in March. In contrast to his predecessor Jennifer van Dijk – and her predecessors – the new Minister is no legal scholar, but rather a career civil servant who previously served as President Desi Bouterse’s Chief of Staff.

His first controversy ironically comes a few days after police arrested three men who were caught on camera beating a man they suspected of stealing (fruits). Police took the men into custody and warned that anyone caught taking the law into their own hands would be prosecuted. “Everyone has the right to make a citizen’s arrest, with the condition that the suspect in the case should be handed over to police immediately,” they had said, adding that the way the residents had beat the suspect bordered on anarchy.

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