Ish Sookun, a System Engineer with specialization in Linux Operating Systems, was arrested on the 23rd January 2016 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA). Why? Because an anonymous email was sent from his cyber-café to the Prime Minister’s Office that said that there would be terrorist attacks in Mauritius on the 20th January. There was no indication that it was him who sent the email. He was detained in police custody for ten days, without proof, then released on bail. There is still a provisional charge under PoTA against Ish Sookun. His friend and partner, Kishan Sooklall, was also arrested under the same law, together with Ish Sookun.
PoTA is a law where someone can be arrested where there is suspicion that he or she is implicated in a terrorist act. It was passed in 2002 to fight terrorism. At the same time, it means that anyone can be taken into police custody simply on a hunch when there is no proof against them. It is a double edged sword.
There is also a procedure where someone can be arrested on a “provisional charge.” This does not solely apply to PoTA, but also to other laws. In the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions 54th e-newsletter, December 2015, the DPP says that the provisional charge is “probably unique to Mauritius.” He continues:
“Given its purpose of bringing a detainee under judicial control, one would assume that any transgression or abuse by the police when effecting arrest would be set right by the Magistrate, yet there is a well-founded (but not new) concern, among members of the Bar, that the judicial control is inadequate and provisional charges are being used as a cover for arbitrary arrests and detentions. It would appear that very often police officers have recourse to a provisional charge as a mere routine practice ignoring completely the principles attached to the lodging of a provisional charge. It is in these circumstances that the conundrum exists.”
The government has said that they will change their legal structure relating to the “provisional charge,” which they themselves consider to be arbitrary and abusive.
The Government Programme 2015-2019 – Security and Law and Order, states:
“Design of a modern legal framework modeled on the UK Police and Criminal Evidence Act to address the abusiveness and arbitrariness of the present system of ‘provisional charges’”.
Ish Sookun took a public stand against the government on the issue of biometric data on the National Identity Card. He was even an expert witness in a Court Case against the Mauritian State on the subject. He is also well known in Mauritius for raising issues of data protection in public.
His family, friends, colleagues, members of the computing community and bloggers gave him a lot of support. Some, even unknown to him, have supported him because of the positions he took on biometric data and on the issue of data protection. Many of those people have said that the police and government used the email as an excuse to arrest this young man under PoTA and that it is unjust.
Throughout history, people, whether young or old have been incarcerated or persecuted. Some have been tortured. Others have even lost their lives because their opinions, their actions, or both, contradicted a regime’s will and its power. Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. Also known as Madiba, the term more profound in meaning than a surname, signifies respect and affection. Aung-San-Suu-Kyi, after fifteen years of house arrest in Burma, has become an international symbol of resistance in the face of oppression.
Galileo, a scientist, remained under house arrest for the rest of his life when he said that it was the earth that revolved around the sun, when the church, having a lot of power at that time, said that it was the earth that was at the centre of the other planets and the sun. The church labeled Galileo a heretic. He was born in 1564 and died in 1642. Today, humanity’s knowledge about astronomy is based on Galileo’s discoveries.
It is sometimes one solitary courageous voice or the opinion of a minority group that becomes acceptable as the norm in the society of tomorrow. It is often those same opinions that make their way in all walks of life and become intrinsic to our attitudes, our laws, our education system, in medicine, in information technology, in information and communications, in labour relations and in the politics of a country. Countless of those brave men and women remain unknown to the majority of people, the unrecognized heroes and heroines of our history. Many of those dissenting voices bring about change for the benefit of humanity’s development, sometimes even universally.
Meanwhile we call for all charges against him to be dropped.