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Is the Berenger government considering extending POTA?


A lot of attention has rightly been focused on repressive "sanctions" for supposed "abuse" by radio license holders. This is one of the tasks the newly set up Special Committee presided by Prime Minister Bérenger with no less than seven Ministers has set itself. Lalit has taken a firm stand against repression against radio stations from which ordinary people can often speak out freely. We see it as a means of gagging the public, in the face of impending economic catastrophe.

Lalit would also like to draw attention to another repressive measure that the Berenger Ministerial Committee will be discussing. The Bérenger government calls it "tightening of the law in respect of false bomb scares". What is the Ministerial Committee considering exactly? Is it thinking of extending repressive legislation in POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) to include "mauvais plaisantin"? Under Section 25 of the repressive POT Act, the Minister responsible for national security can tap telephone conversations without even applying to Court.

Everyone remembers what the Ministers in the MSM-MMM government said in 1994 when they amended the Constitution to prevent those the Police brand "drug dealers" from getting bail, and to keep them for in communicado for 36 hours. They used hysteria against drugs (which they themselves had whipped up), and said that such measures were exceptional ones, to be used only against "drug dealers". The State of Mauritius was severely criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for such infringements to human rights in 1996.

Despite this, in 2002, the MSM-MMM government extended in communicado and bail denial provisions to people that the government brands "terrorist". Everyone remembers how Minister Gayan came on television to say that this exception will apply only to "terrorists". "Ordinary people have nothing to fear", he said. "Fundamental human rights will in no way be affected", he said.

The POT Bill provoked generalised opposition and caused two Presidents of the Republic to resign rather than to assent to such totalitarian legislation at the time. It was Chief Justice Pillay who, standing in for President when both had resigned, finally assented to this scurrilous piece of legislation.

Two years after the passing of POTA, in June this year, the Supreme Court ruled that denial of bail to those accused of drugs offences is anti-Constitutional. This important judgement puts into question not only denial of bail under the Dangerous Drugs Act, but also denial of bail under POTA.

Now the government seems to be considering extending POTA-like legislation to those who play pranks in bad taste.

The Bérenger government does not care one whit for human rights - it is barging ahead with repressive legislation, come what may. Since 2000 general elections, it has passed POTA, abolished village council elections, postponed municipal elections, is considering repressive measures against so-called "abuse" by radio, and is now considering extending repressive measures on the pretext of "false bomb alerts". Enough to remind anyone of how the economic crisis of the early 1970's brought with it a repressive State of Emergency in which elections were postponed, the media gagged, and people, arbitrarily detained.