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Reply to Raj Meetarbhan:The Rise of Torture in Mauritius

03.10.2006

The article below was published in L'Express, 3 October, 2006. It's subtitles which are rather important to the structure of the article did not appear in the L'Express text. The article reads:

Where there is torture, it is dangerous to attempt to minimize its importance, deny its existence or cover it up. It is harmful to justify the unjustifiable by crying law and order in curious argument for the "necessity" for torture.

Torture is something that every thinking person should stand up and oppose. Even if you aren't a thinking person, the torturer will not spare you and yours any more than he will spare anyone else, once torture is let loose. Barbary with State backing inevitably gets out of hand.
Let us be clear about a number of misconceptions. Torture is not something you can allow a teeny bit of, the odd "gifle" here or the odd "methode forte" there. Torture, once it is publicly condoned by politicians or elements in the Press, will be ever more difficult to contain. It will go hysterical and then rampant.

We have already begun to hear the hysteria over the radio.

The argument sprouted by well-cravatted people, that torture is necessary, implies it is only used against "hardened criminals", and implies that there is no other way to deal with "them".
Let's look at the truth rather more closely.


WITNESSES TORTURED
Torture has recently been used systematically against witnesses. Not against the accused only, but against witnesses, too.

Mr. Jerry Cadine, skilled worker, was no more than a prosecution witness. Moreover, he came forward, himself, voluntarily to denounce a receiver of stolen goods in Curepipe. He was tortured by the Raddhoa team. He suffered trumped up charges, and was subsequently found not guilty.

Mrs. Martine Desmarais is an ordinary housewife and teacher, who is a witness, because Mr. Bernard Maigrot and his wife were at her house on the night of the mysterious murder of Vanessa Lagesse. Mrs. Desmarais ended up being illegally abducted and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment by the Raddhoa team. She has won her National Human Rights Commission case, won a Writ of Habeas Corpus from a Supreme Court Judge against Mr. Raddhoa, and won a Supreme Court case for damages.

The late Mr. Rajesh Ramlogun, civil servant, was called in as a witness in the violent and bizarre murder of two old ladies in Lallmatie. ASP Raddhoa himself refers to him as a "witness". He met his death in detention in circumstances the judicial enquiry decided was with "foul play' at the hands of the same Raddhoa MCIT team. Four of them have charges laid against them. The widow is calling for a judicial review for heavier charges, as well as for damages.

Fourthly, Barrister Jean Claude Bibi has now been attacked by the Raddhoa team, and subjected to verbal violence and abuse, because he is a witness to the beatings up of two of his clients: Mr. Jolicoeur's bruising, which he even photographed, and Mr. Ajaree's split open lip.
These four cases are examples of exemplary citizens, living ordinary lives, who have been tortured and subjected to illegal treatment just because they are witnesses.

Let's leave aside the effect of this torture on the traumatized individuals, though not enough can be said about its life-long effects. But what is the effect of systematic torture of witnesses on the entire judicial system? Clearly the main effect is that it destroys all hope of the police being able to elucidate crimes. Is it not a direct disincentive for witnesses to come forward or to speak out? What better way to sabotage justice than to manhandle witnesses?

A police force that condones torture thus worsens the very situation it pretends to ameliorate: crime detection will be more difficult. The arguments used by people like Raj Meetarbhan about "law and order" being opposed to "human rights" are thus not only spurious, but also positively erroneous, and extremely harmful. Torture is a clear cause of a decline in elucidation of crimes. Respect for human rights decreases criminality, both directly and indirectly.


EXPERT WITNESS KIDNAPPED
Dr. Menage, the medical practitioner who was called in at the discovery of the body of Vanessa Lagesse, was kidnapped and tortured by police officers. He is an expert witness. Expert witnesses are key to any judicial system. It is extremely damaging to the system that expert witnesses be made afraid to appear in cases in the future. The officers concerned, once again under Mr. Raddhoa, have not been brought to account for what happened to Dr. Menage.
VICTIMS OF CRIME TORTURED
Equally mindless arguments have recently been put forward, contrasting the "rights" of victims of criminal behavior, who, it is argued, are abandoned by human rights advocators, with the "rights" of those detained and beaten up by police who human rights advocators defend.

Two completely different points need to be remembered to counter this unfortunate juxtaposition, which poses as an argument.

Firstly, police officers often torture the very victims of criminals and their families.

No one is more a victim of criminals than Mrs. Tostee, the mother of the murdered young woman, Vanessa Lagesse. However, at the very moment when she was in a state of shock and in mourning for loss of her daughter, a direct victim of criminal behavior, the Raddhoa team moved in, not sparing torture on her. She was thus both a victim of the violence of both civilians and police officers. Her damages case is in the courts.

Who could be more of a victim of criminality than Mr. Bipin Ittoo, brother of the young girl murdered at Bassin Blanc? Yet, he and his cousin Nitin Dawoojee were tortured by the Raddhoa team, too. This means he, too, just like Mrs. Tostee, was victim of violence both by civilians and by the police.

So, "the victims of criminals" are often the very same people as "torture victims".
Secondly, people seem to forget that the State provides a plethora of officers to help victims of criminality. Thousands upon thousands of police officers, hundreds upon hundreds of officers of the State Law Office and the judiciary all spend a good deal of their time coming to the aid of victims of violence. Whereas society provides very little help to the victims of those who set themselves up as an inquisition. The State admittedly pays the Police Complaints Investigation Bureau. However, their more recent actions have shown it to be infiltrated by the Raddhoa team. The State also admittedly pays the NHRC. It has been abysmal in its incapacity to put a halt to the torture that is going on. In its 2005 Report, it feigns a decrease in cases of police brutality, but on a closer reading, it is clear that this is due to none other than a series of errors of classification in the 2005 Report. A number, which were actually complaints for verbal and physical violence, were wrongly classified as "other complaints" and not placed in the section on police brutality. The CIB and the NHRC, inasmuch as they fail to expose the torture, paradoxically become part of the cover-up of it.

FAMILY MEMBERS OF A POTENTIAL ACCUSED PARTIES TORTURED
Once torture is condoned by society, the State, and elements in the Press, it continues to spread unabated and terrifyingly. It spreads not only to witnesses and to victims of criminal violence, but now to completely unconnected family members of a potential accused.

There is the case of Mr. Dewananda Subborayan. He lives with his wife in the East on a sugar estate where he is a respected employee. The Raddhoa team comes and ransacks his house, arrests him, strips him naked, beats him until he is permanently deaf in one ear, tortures him with electric shocks, for the simple reason that he is the father of someone who the MCIT team is investigating for the MCB robbery. As part of his torture, when he was naked, one of his sons was brought naked from his separate torture session, for an inhuman and degrading supposed "confrontation". He and two of his sons have all suffered torture.

There is also the case of the father-in-law of Mr. Jooneid Mohun. He and his wife are a quiet and respected family of senior civil servants who come from generations of highly respected social workers. In order to get hold of their son-in-law (on rather vague charges, in the first place), the police traumatize and arrest his ageing in-laws as a form of blackmail.

VICTIMS OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY TORTURED
And torture then spreads to cases of mistaken identity. There is the case of Mr. Roland Saide, driver and watchman, ex-driver of the present Prime Minister. Mr. Saide was finally, once the mistake became clear, charged, tried, judged and sentenced in one single day for the trumped-up offense of having with him a small penknife. However he was arrested and beaten up because he was mistaken for someone who had attacked the brother of Mr. Raddhoa. In his case, Mr. Saide was kicked by Mr. Raddhoa, himself. He was admitted to hospital with broken ribs and a broken leg, after the beating.

Michael Wing Tin, employee of a Municipality, arrested in a case of mistaken identity, on the day of his wedding, was beaten up badly before being released because of the discovery of the error. He was married in Immaculee Church, full of bruises.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALREADY CONFESSED, TORTURED
Let us recall the case of Reginald Topize, also known as Kaya. This famous musician and composer admitted smoking a joint two or three days earlier at a concert. He was arrested, and though famous, not given bail on his own word. Found dead in his cell, his body had 32 injuries on it. One or two of them, fatal. When you look at the photographs of his body, you realize that he had been subjected to unusual forms of torture. Why was he tortured? In this case, the State has finally agreed to accord damages to his widow and two young children. But the truth about his death is still not out in the open.

There is the very recent case of Thierry Michaud. He admitted to having committed fraud. And yet he was beaten up.


CONCLUSION
Torture should never be used against anyone. It has been abhorred since time immemorial by the caring members of society, while condoned by the weak. It is now abhorred by all States, at least theoretically. It is illegal in Mauritius. Does the Criminal Code outlaw "wounds and blows", "swearing and invective", murder, manslaughter, torture, and then go on to exempt certain CID officers by name? No. These acts are illegal for everyone. That is the meaning of the same law for everyone. And once torture is defended ideologically, as a pretext for "law and order" ? for there is no link between the two other than fascist ideology ? it spreads like a vile slime into all aspects of the work of officers of the State. And as the stakes rise higher, as the time gets closer when police officers will be cross-examined in open court by Barrister Ivan Collendavelloo about the torture of Mr. Bernard Maigrot, as Barrister Jean Claude Bibi has inevitably become an eye-witness, during the course of his practice, to torture, so certain police officers will show signs of panic. This is a dangerous situation.

As barristers try to do their work under these conditions, they, in turn, suffer abuse. Barristers de Speville, Mohammed, Pertaub, Peeroo, Collendavelloo and Bibi are just the few who have publicly protested. As human rights defenders intervene, so they, too suffer abuse. Two Lalit members, Roland Fozoo and Devianand Narain (the latter later left Lalit) were arrested while interviewing a victim of police violence. Jean Claude Bibi, too, is a human rights defender working to expose torture. Even a journalist, Jacques Achille, during the course of his work for the press, was subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. He has even won his case. The police were found guilty.

Torture, beatings, mistreatment by officers of the State must be stopped. The Prime Minister must take his responsibility at once. He is Minister of the Interior, too. It is no longer an option to pretend that torture is not taking place: that there is "no evidence" as he recently declared. There are enough bruised soles of feet, grazed faces, broken bones, and dead bodies.

Lindsey Collen
for LALIT
1 October, 2006