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How Could Iqbal Toofany’s Death have been Prevented?

19.03.2015

It was a Sunday evening, 1st March, 2015 when Mr. Iqbal Toofany, an electrician, left his home in Vacoas in his new car heading for La Gaulette where he was going night-fishing on his father’s boat. On the way, officers of the ERS (Emergency Response Squad) during a “routine check” came up with a discrepancy between his number plate and some other document.Erroneously suspecting him of stealing the car, the ERS took him to the Riviere Noire Police station where he ended up in the hands of five CID enquiring officers for the night. A nightmare follows.

By the next morning, there was nothing the Candos Hospital staff could do to save his life. He leaves a wife and three girls, as well as his father. His death tragically adds a new name to the long list of deaths in police custody of men in good health. LALIT has kept a register since 1979 of these deaths(see separate article in news section of same date as this article), when LALIT members began the struggle against police violence, after being called in by the family of Serge Victorine to examine his body after his death while in police custody. Now 36 years later, there have been 62 deaths in detention that we know of.

The autopsy report showed that Iqbal Toofany had been badly beaten up, with severe bruising literally all over his body, as everyone can see on the video film on the internet. He even had the soles of his feet bruised, the very hallmark of torture. The cause of death is written up as being “pulmonary oedema”, which means liquid in the lungs, and which is, in itself, not exactly a stand-alone cause of death. Many things can cause pulmonary oedema including intra-cranial bleeding or a blood clot dislodged from the legs, but the cause of the pulmonary oedema is not mentioned in the autopsy report.

The five CID police officers, Sergeant Parsand and Constables Laboudeuse, Nouma, Ragoo and Gaiqui were arrested, and then released on very small amounts of bail. The new Prime Minister, Aneerood Jugnauth has expressed his disagreement with this early release, and has promised a full enquiry. The Director of Public Prosecutions set up a Judicial Enquiry within a week of the death, with the Magistrate being called upon to actually enquire, and to take exhibits into his custody. There are provisional charges of “torture” against the officers.

The State, always so slow to suspend and arrest enquiring officers, has at last begun to act more swiftly. Denial is no longer an option for the leaders of the political part of the State, nor for the leaders of the prosecution arm.At long last. Now, we will just have to see to what extent the impunity of violent CID officers has finally been dented.

The death of Mr. Toofany is a rare case where an eye-witness has come forward. He is a night watchman called Mr. Maurice Perrine, who was working on the property adjoining the police station in Black River. He has sworn an affidavit testifying to hearing the beatings, to seeing the head of the person being beaten hurtling around as the gang of police officers beat him, and to having seen the man, now known to be Mr. Toofany, dragged towards the police jeep hours later, and thrown in as if he were “an animal”. He can recognize the police officers, he says. He spoke to one, who was taking a smoke break, it seems, from the frenzy of beating. The officer told him that he had beaten the detainee so much that his hands were red, and proffered his hands.

However, the State practice of cover up, and the “status quo” habit of casting doubt on the integrity of the victim and on the veracity of any witness, seem to continue, as if denial is encrusted in the cogs of society.

So, we find that two of the four CCTV video tapes from the Cascavelle Roundabout are blank, as they were supposedly coincidentally not functioning, the hospital CCTV has been allowed to be over-recorded in the routine way after 5 days, and the CCTV at the Candos gate has not been working for months, the Casualty Card has the time of admission over-written, and so on. Meanwhile, the press prints all sorts of details on previous problems the victim had, or is invented to have had, with the Police. This information is clearly “planted” as part of the cover-up. We have seen this again and again in cases of death in detention. It is particularly noxious, as the assumption is that, had the victim been “guilty” (or had he been some sort of “bad” member of society), the beating and torture would somehow have been normal or at least excusable. And press articles repeatedly cast doubt on the witness. Why, they say, did he at first refuse to be a witness, when the CID were investigating the death in detention? Imagine if you’ve just witnessed the CID beating a man to death, then voluntarily giving yourself over to the CID as a witness to this beating. Private Radio stations, though they have over the past 10 years helped enormously in the struggle to get the public to recognise beating and torture by the enquiring officers of the Police, repeatedly invite representatives of the Police or of the Police Welfare Association to come on to Radio shows to make up a sort of bizarre “for and against” platform. This is most unhealthy. You then hear police officers expressing their profound condolences to the mourning family, even as they continue with the cover-up process, referring to cases of death in detention as mere “allegations” against the police, and claiming that there is an erroneous “perception” of police brutality, based on false rumours. It is as if Mr. Toofany is not dead at all. Suddenly, it is police officers who are talking about the “rights” of suspects, but only when it is their colleagues for whom they are doing an institutional cover-up because they had not respected the rights of a suspect, nor the law, nor ordinary human decency. Five hulks do not make up a team to hit an imprisoned, unarmed man.

It is in LALIT’s experience true to say that the “confession-based” judicial system is what has to be changed. Magistrates and judges in actual fact accept these types of supposed “confession”, more like “extortion” than confession, without any other evidence. And it is this that perpetuates the torture. The torture, once it is a practice, clearly becomes gratuitous sadism as well, but it remains basically a key part of the judicial system. It is the method of producing “acceptable evidence”, and it is this method that has to be made useless by making the so-called confession totally inadmissible.

LALIT was one of the two or three organizations that, after the three-day, nation-wide, mass rebellion against the police, when the late Kaya (Reginald Topize) was killed in 1999 while in police custody, that set up the organization JUSTICE: Association against Violence of Officers of the State.And this Association has brought together dozens of survivors and the families of dozens of victims, for “Speak Outs” and in order to make known the practice of torture. JUSTICE also calls, with LALIT, for a series of “protocols” in order to prevent all the professions of the “state” (in the broad sense, including all professionals) being part of a systemic cover-up: protocols for how barristers, magistrates, medical practitioners and journalists should deal ethically with this particular type of violence of the State. This violence and torture perpetrated by the “patriarchal hierarchy” that the police force is, takes place, not unlike domestic violence, with the tacit acceptance of the powers-that-be and in private behind four walls. The victim is the one who is supposed to suffer the shame, not the perpetrator. During public JUSTICE speak-outs in the Municipality of Port Louis, Quatre Bornes and at LALIT’s headquarters, great big men have taken their courage in their hands and told about how they were stripped, humiliated, sworn at violently, abused, hooded and then beaten, kicked about, hit with wooden bars, hit on the soles of their feet, water-boarded, made to dance naked on a table, clouted violently on both ears at once with two telephone directories, threatened, and given electric shocks to their genitals; a Magistrate, in one judgment, found that red ants had been used in order to torture a detainee. We have had a man talk of how torturers put a rat in his underclothing. The importance of speaking out like this is that the victims get social support, get their courage and self-esteem back, and know that they are also helping to open the eyes of the public and, by this, to stop the hideous practice of torture.

The main gain of the ongoing campaign by LALIT and JUSTICE is that there has finally been an admission amongst perhaps as many as one-half of the elite in Mauritius that brutality and torture do exist. The denial, stubborn amongst the bourgeoisie and its middle class “elite” as well as amongst bureaucrats in the state, has finally been shattered. The working class and particularly the lumpen proletariat, are of course only too well aware, and always have been, of this beating, humiliation and torture used in order to extort “confessions”, precisely because they suffer most from it.

But, “confessions” are not things that can be extorted. The very word “confession” implies genuine regret. So, it is these extortions that must be stopped, and the way to do this is to stop accepting them as evidence at all. Only when an accused before the Magistrate or Judge says that he is confessing to the offence or crime should it be accepted as evidence. Any document signed while someone is being held against his will by the police should obviously not be considered to have been freely signed, whatever it may say.

One can’t help wondering if Mr. Toofany, like Mr. Rajesh Ramlogun and how many others before them, had signed some false “confession” whether they could have saved their lives, been found guilty of something they did not do, and then had to live forever, trying to survive without a job because unable to get a “moralite” certificate.

And since most offences, from crimes like, say, rape, to misdemeanors like, say, larceny of a television, are never punished at all, and this for a string of reasons: they are often not reported, and when reported, they are often not elucidated.High class people rarely get prosecuted at all; if their children, for example, are caught with drugs, they just get let go: “Kids will be kids!”

So, the spectre of society inflicting beatings and torture on the few suspects the CID manage to get their clutches on, just to get a conviction through a (false) “confession” is absurd. It is reminiscent of some kind of fundamentalist inquisition from the Dark Ages.

Conclusion
It is important to stop the impunity of police officers, usually enquiring officers of the CID branch, who perpetrate torture and beatings. But it is continuing. The case against the four officers of the MCIT team accused of torturing Mr. Rajesh Ramlogun who subsequently died of a brain injury, is still crawling through the Courts. Mr. Ramlogun was killed in 2006. It is now 2015, and the DPP’s appeal against the judgment of the two Intermediate Court Magistrates, has still not come up for Hearing. The Widow Ramlogun has been desperately trying to find out the date to which the case has, once again, been postponed.

LALIT members, including myself, feel profound sadness that the death of Mr. Toofany could not have been prevented.

Let us prevent further beating and torture by speaking out against it, and by putting political pressure for the “confession-based” judicial system to be changed so that extorted confessions made to enquiring officers by incarcerated people are not valid evidence. At the same time, we must put social pressure on all the professions to stop being part of the cover up: barristers, magistrates, doctors and journalists are often at the heart of institutional cover-ups. The professional associations must each develop an “ethical protocol” so as to give guidance to their members on how to deal ethically with cases of police violence; this will protect their members from being tricked into colluding with police officers who are, in fact, busy doing a cover-up.

Lindsey Collen