Yesterday, 19 January, 2005, Lalit member, Lindsey Collen was called by her advocate, Jean Claude Bibi, to give evidence as to what actually happened on the 19 December, 2002, the day of the planning meeting for the NO TO BUSH demonstration.
The police prosecution had closed their case after Police Corporal Ellapen gave confused evidence as to the alleged offense of molesting a police officer, Inspector Pedre. Corporal Ellapen, however, re-iterated the words that Lindsey Collen was alleged to have spoken to Inspector Pedre on the day of the planning meeting of the Common Platform, and which are supposed to constitute the molesting. The words were also quoted by Inspector Pedre, when he gave evidence at the last hearing held in 2004. TOI MOUTOUK, TO PENA NIMERO, TO PAREY KUMA TO KOMISER. Roughly translated this means YOU MAGGOT, YOU HAVE NOT GOT A NUMBER, JUST LIKE YOUR BOSS, THE POLICE COMMISSIONER.
In yesterdays hearing, Lindsey Collens advocate pointed out that in the original in the police Occurrence Book, the offending words are TOI MOUSTACHE, not TOI MOUTOUK. Or, YOU WITH THE MOUSTACHE and not YOU MAGGOT.
Lindsey Collen gave evidence under oath, was cross examined, and then the lawyer closed his case.
In a preliminary section on the procedures, she said that she had never been informed of the charges against her, and was only in Court the day she was called to answer the charge against her, because she was showing solidarity with Ram Seegobin, her husband, another Lalit member, charged with the same offense coming from the same incident on the day of the planning meeting of the common front. She was neither summonsed nor warned to come to Court.
On the day of the incident, she explained exactly what had happened. Some 20 to 30 organizations were to meet at two p.m. to put final touches to the planned demonstration and then to hold a press conference on the spot. This was all at the Social Centre in St Georges Road, Port Louis. The main hall had been booked. Just before two, when a number of representatives of different organizations were already present in the hall, three police officers, including one she later learnt was called Inspector Pedre tried to come into the Hall. She and three other people present, Ram Seegobin, Ashok Subron and Atma Shanto, prevented the police officers from entering by putting up their hands. Inspector Pedre said they had been informed of our meeting and had been sent by Line Barracks to be present. Ram Seegobin asked if any of the organizations present had informed the police and everyone said that they had not. So the police were not allowed in. They went and sat on benches outside.
When Lindsey and others present were beginning to clean up the Hall which was in a terrible mess following a Christmas gathering that had been held there earlier in the day, the caretaker arrived, and said that he would have to clean up the Hall. He asked if the Platform members would agree to hold their meeting on the verandah instead. They agreed.
The Platform, Lindsey Collen mentioned, included a number of high profile organizations like the Government Services Association, the Federation of Civil Service Unions, the Comite pour Amelioration de Sante, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, the General Workers Federation, as well as Lalit, which she and others represented.
When Platform members started to bring benches on to the verandah, Ram Seegobin realized that the police were now within earshot, so he walked over towards them.
At the same time, Lindsey Collen described how she went to call Father Henri Souchon from the Vicarage next door, because she knows he does not invite the police on to his private premises. She said she had taken responsibility for his premises over the years since 1975 dozens of times, and knows he does not permit the police to enter. However, Father Souchon was not in at the time.
When she came back from the Vicarage, she noticed a man who she later found out was called Mr. Ragooputh, was in the Salle de Droite, and she said she smelt a rat. She went and asked him if he had a private meeting (reynion) and he replied that no he had a public meeting (miting). She thus knew that somehow the police had prepared a cover for spying on the Platform meeting. The context, she explained, was that George W. Bush, President of the USA was due to visit Mauritius the next month in the context of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) summit, and that a street demonstration was being planned against him and his politics.
When Lindsey realized what was happening, she then walked over to Ram Seegobin and the group of people around him who were all involved by now in repartee with the police, and called on everyone to leave the police alone and get on with the meeting.
Before turning away from the police, Ram Seegobin said to Lindsey Collen, in front of everyone present that the Inspector had no number and would not give his name. Lindsey replied sarcastically that he was no doubt working for the Americans.
She explained in Court that this incident was at a time when the Police Commissioner sent copies of correspondence to the President of the USA via the American Embassy in John Kennedy Street in Port Louis. This collusion between the police and the USA was what she was referring to. It was commonly known at the time.
In reply to a question from the Magistrate, M. Pentiah, she said she never called Inspector Pedre a maggot. She said she has never in her life called anyone a maggot, and she did not call any of the police officers present maggots. Her Counsel asked if she had ever called him a MOUSTACHE, and she said no to this as well.
Jean Claude Bibi went on to ask Lindsey if she had been witness of serious statements that had been made during this course of the repartee, and she said she had been given reports afterwards but she was not an eye witness.
The Police Prosecution asked if Lindsey Collen always went to Court with Ram Seegobin, and she replied almost always.
He asked why she had not called any witnesses since she had mentioned Atma Shanto and others. She said that the Magistrate may note that Ram Seegobin was not in the Court Room, and that was precisely because he might be called as witness. Counsel objected to the question, saying an accused did not have to justify her defense strategy, and the Magistrate upheld his objection. However, Lindsey Collen requested permission from the Magistrate to add something, and he said she could. She said Father Souchon had agreed to be witness and had spent a whole day waiting in Court, and he is more than 80 years old, so she did not want to call him again.
He then asked if she had ever had any prior problem with Inspector Pedre and she replied in the negative.
Judgement will be delivered on 6 May 2005.
Readers will recall that Ram Seegobin was found NOT GUILTY last week on similar charges arising from this same incident.