Saturday 4 February the beautiful semi-circular Port Louis Municipal Council Chamber was transformed from being the seat of a rather ritualized democratic process into housing a profoundly freedom-loving event. The chamber was full, and so attentive was everyone that you could hear a pin drop. The walls which bear the list of the first municipal councillors, who were during the French Revolution on the basis of universal suffrage (not including women or slaves, though) were witness on Saturday to the moving testimony by individual men on the violence and torture they had received in Police Cells. The Municipality of Port Louis, for a brief afternoon got back something of the spirit it had in 1977 when Kader Bhayat, Mayor when the MMM which was then a party with the working class in its vanguard, decreed it "maison du peuple". The struggle to expose and ultimately put a stop to torture made an important step last Saturday. No-one can deny the existence of torture any longer.
The Speak-Out was organized by the association JUSTICE, which was set up nearly three years ago, after two years of gatherings of victims and their families. Many Lalit members were involved in the creation of the association and are still active, together with Widow Veronique Topize, whose late husband, Kaya's death caused a three day mass rebellion in the country, the human rights lawyer Jean Claude Bibi, and victims of police torture like Martine Desmarais and Jerry Cadine.
Widow Bindoo Ramlogun, together with her little daughter whose sixth birthday it was on the day, was present in the at the "speak out", 3 weeks after her husband died in custody on 14 January. She was accompanied by her sister and her brother in law. Also present was the widow of Berger Agathe, killed by police bullets, while he was unarmed and shirtless in a crowd angry at the death in custody of Kaya. The journalist who was subjected to beating and humiliation by the police while he was working, Jacques Achille, was also present, as were about 10 journalists from, amongst others, MBC TV, Radio Plus, Radio One, L'Express, Week-End.
In all, some 12 victims or their families, were present, of whom 6 wanted to, and had time to, speak out. What they said was so moving that most of the people present, JUSTICE members and families concerned, had tears in their eyes. One man was unable to continue his story as, remembering the torture he had suffered, he broke down. Jean Claude Bibi, following a very moving introduction by Alain Ah-Vee, outlined the anatomy of police violence, just how it occurs and is covered up, and how it must be stopped, before introducing those who wanted to give witness, one by one.
Widow RAMGOLUN's LAWYER, VIREN RAMCHURN
Advocate Ramchurn, on behalf of the widow, gave a clear and chilling account of what it is like to be an advocate when you cannot find your client, and when you finally find him dying in hospital, and then dead in the morgue. He said that the Magistrate Seebuluck's findings of "Foul Play" should logically lead to prosecution. But that we would have to wait and see. He commended JUSTICE for creating this space, and for giving courage to victims of police violence.
MR ROLAND SAID
Mr. Roland Said explained how he had been arrested by the Raddhoa team because Mr. Raddhoa accused him informally of supposedly being a hired assasin or "tueur a gage". (At the time, Deputy Superintendent Raddhoa had done a publicity stunt about how, because he was doing such a great job against crime, his enemies were out to kill him. A contract was supposed to have been put out for his head. Mr. Said was supposed to be the assasin.)
Mr. Said, of course, knew nothing about any of this. On that day, as he was going up the stairs to the Curepipe CID office, Mr. Raddhoa himself, he said, came out on to the landing as he neared the top, and kicked him with an unbelievable
violence in the chest, from above. This is how his ribs were broken. He was also kicked again and again. As well as the ribs, he had a broken leg. He had to be hospitalised. He was tortured by men putting a hood over his head, by the use of shocks. He was also stripped naked during torture. Looking, with sympathy in his eyes, towards the widow Ramlogun, he said how when he saw the photos in the press of her late husband's feet, all bruised from beating, he recognised that he had suffered the same torture as him.
Later Mr. Said was charged with being in possession of a very small penknife, one used for peeling apples and oranges. He was charged and found guilty and sentenced in a remarkably short time.
He has not been able to get any work (He is a Security Guard) since the calumny by Raddhoa.
MR DEVANANDA SUBBORAYEN
Mr. Subborayen introduced himself as a labourer who works for a sugar estate, and explained how he has two grown up children and one boy still at home. One day when he got home, he found an indescribable disorder, and he thought the sugar estate was evicting them perhaps. But it was the police looking for 6 million rupees from the MCB break-in. The police then proceeded to take him to police stations and then to the CID offices where he, too, was stripped naked, hooded and tied down on a table, subjected to electric shocks, beaten and beaten, not knowing where the next blow would come from.
He, naked, was confronted by his son, also naked (presumably getting similar torture in the next door room). His son said: "Where is the six million rupees I gave you?" The father said he hadn't been given six rupees, let alone six million. "If he gave the money," he said to the police, rhetorically, "cut my head off right now!"
He was made to promise not to tell the policemen at the police station about the beating and torture when they took him back there. He kept his word, he said. He was still so traumatized that less than a week before the speak-out he had refused an interview with the press, because he was afraid of police retaliation.
MR. SAID LALLMOHAMED
Mr. Lallmohamed, a taxi driver, began to tell how he had been arrested out of the blue, but as he started to tell of his torture, it became clear that he was too emotionally affected to continue. People present nevertheless saluted his courage because he had tried.
MR. JERRY CADINE
Lalit member Jerry Cadine, a painter by trade, said that he had been a witness for his employer, a Frenchman architect who runs an interior decoration business, because he had seen the light fittings they were reconditioning for a client being sold by a receiver of stolen goods. The police did not like this testimony, so they arrested Jerry, put a hood over his head and beat him thoroughly. All the witnesses spoke of the foul and violent language that accompanies the beatings.
Jerry spoke of how the police finally put false charges against him (on which he was eventually found not guilty) and he blamed the National Human Rights Commission for not believing his true version of the torture he had suffered.
MR. MICHAEL JACQUES WING TIM
Michael Wing Tim suffered a violent arrest when he was drinking a glass of tea at the Port Louis bazaar after work at the Port Louis Municipality where he is employed. He said that he used to inform police about drug dealings in his area, as he was part of a "Forces Vives" group concerned about drugs in his area. But now he had lost all faith in the police.
That day was a special day for him. It was the day he was due to get married. Everyone would be waiting for him at the Church in a matter of hours. He had one or two things to buy before going home to prepare.
His was a case of a mistaken identity.
He was held in what he considers to have been a near-fatal head grip, frog-marched off by plain-clothes men who, at first, he was convinced were thugs of some kind. He was forcibly taken to the police cells and was beaten up. The police officer awaiting him, when he saw him aid, "That's not him!" This did not deter the CID men who continued to beat him. The marks on his neck were visible at his wedding. Mamie Cloune of RADIO PLUS, he said, the next morning referred to the bride with "di-ruz" and the groom with du "ble". That was him, he said.
MR. BERTY EVREMONT
The last witness, as reliable as all the other five, told a story that makes your blood curdle. He was in a bus plying a neighbourhood-route in Curepipe when a policeman and his three brothers, armed with knives and a gun, came on to the bus he was on, and told everyone to get off the bus. He refused. He was stabbed repeatedly, and they tried to force him to sign something, including the fact that the knife was his knife. He refused. They threatened to cut his sex off, and tried to get him off the bus. As well as having suffered a number of stab wounds, Mr. Evremont was clearly still traumatized.
The afternoon session ended with Lindsey Collen, for JUSTICE, introducing ten or eleven kinds of change that will be necessary, as part of a mass movement's demands for a better society in general, to stop torture. (See NEWS article in web archive originally written for LALIT). Debate followed.
The session ended with little cakes and soft drinks, as everyone talked about what we had all learnt by this collective experience.