Sunday 29 July saw the beautiful old Port Louis Theatre chock-a-block full, right up to the seats in the clouds, for the concert offered by top Mauritian artists to "STOP POLICE VIOLENCE".
The Concert was followed by a ceremony chaired by the Mayor and at which the hundreds of people as they came out of the Theatre, lit up candles. This was in the presence of victims of police brutality whose moving and shocking stories were outlined briefly by JUSTICE members, Martine Desmarais and Lindsay Morvan. Mrs Veronique Topize, widow of the musician Kaya, killed in police custody in 1999, after whose death nation-wide protest riots took place, was present with her two children, Azaria and Mumia. Widow Ramlogun sent her good wishes and was absent because of the wedding the same day of her niece. Also present, as victims were, amongst others, Bahim Ajaree, Sebastian Orange (beaten up by the police and who has just won a human rights case), Jerry Cadine, Bala Subaroyan, Mr. Nursoo (MCB cadre), Michael Wing Tin, Stephano and Christopher Martin (minors), and a group of 12 people from Quatre Bornes (of whom 5 are minors), Steve L'Enclume, Martine Desmarais.
The concert was organized following the beating and torture of Nitin Chinien at the hands of the notorious Curepipe team of investigators. Nitin Chinien, is an artist in his own right and is also known from when he, as a child, performed alongside his father the famous committed artists of the 1970's Siven Chinien. Three organizations came together to make this concert a reality. JUSTICE, Association Against Violence by Officers of the State set up a few years ago by activists of different organizations including Lalit, together with the Ad Hoc "Committee for the Support of Nitin Chinien" and the Municipality of Port Louis, all three excelled in organizing a memorable event, full of emotion and a unified demand for an end to police brutality. This event marks a new stage in the struggle against police aggression on suspects, witnesses and the public in general.
The first two of these organizations, as people may be aware, had got quite far in negotiations with the Municipality of Curepipe for a similar concert to have been held on 7 July. However, one or two Municipal Councillors in Curepipe announced that they would set up a "support committee for the three police officers suspended in the Nitin Chinien brutality case", thus dividing the Municipality. There is a strong current around businessmen in Curepipe to support the Curepipe CID team, a team which overlaps with the equally notorious MCIT (Major Crimes Investigation Team) under Prem Raddhoa. This is the first time, and as such it is a victory, that police officers formally accused of brutality have been suspended immediately, and the police involved in violence clearly got their support networks into action to prevent the Curepipe Municipality from going ahead, by threatening to split it politically.
The Mayor of Port Louis, Reza Issack, however, agreed to hold the concert. He did not back out. Instead he gave a hard-hitting speech against violence by the very people who are paid to keep the peace and to protect people. He also stated publicly that he knew that "some" had "backed out" of the action being organised by Justice and the Nitin Chinien Support Committee, but that "when you believe in something, you should not back out because when you do that, you let others lose momentum, and lose confidence in their action". He also said that the Municipality of Port Louis is open to all currents of opinion: "Even though councillors are elected on a political basis, once elected, they are supposed to represent the people".
Both Mayors (Curepipe and Port Louis) are in the same party, the Labour Party. What this shows is that increasing numbers of people are taking a stand against police violence, and they come from all political parties. At the Press Conference announcing the Concert, the Mayor of Port Louis has drawn attention to the fact that his Council, once elected, represents all the people, and that there are "different political currents" present amongst the organizers. This was obvious to everyone. As well as the Mayor, of Labour, there was Marc Marie, for JUSTICE, but also in the MMM Curepipe regional, as well as Lindsay Morvan, for JUSTICE, also now President of the PMXD, and Lindsey Collen, Rajni Lallah and Alain Ah-Vee, all for JUSTICE, and leading members of LALIT. At the concert, there was one MSM Member of the National Assembly, Sheila Grenade, who responded to the special invitation to MP's to be present, as well as PMSD MP, Eric Guimbeau for the candle-light ceremony.
The concert represents the logical broadening of the movement that began as a marginal protest, in the face of right-wing propaganda in favour of "law and order", which is what underpins the impunity of the Raddhoa team and other violent police teams, under all the different Governments since the 1980's. Those present at the Concert came on the basis of five different demands:
* Stop police violence!
* No longer let the police be the ones to inquire into offenses by police officers!
* Officers must be suspended during the enquiry!
* The DPP must lay charges on officers that beat up people!
* For a truly independent Human Rights Commission!
The general theme of the Concert was "For peace, in freedom! Stop police violence!" The artists wore beautifully designed T-Shirts in black with yellow writing, reading: Vyolans Polisyer ASE! (Police violence, we've had enough!)
The first part of the ceremony inside the Theatre before the Concert was due to have been presided by Dhiren Moher, of the Support Committee for Nitin Chinien and also in PILS the HIV-AIDS Association, but his father fell gravely ill, and Zanzak Arjoon stepped in. His speech was very moving.
The Lord Mayor of Port Louis spoke of the need to treat police violence as a serious infringement on our humanity. He said how everyone should be aware that this could befall them, or those close to them.
Rajni Lallah, speaking for JUSTICE, spoke of all the actions that had gradually built up to this Concert since the movement for the truth and for justice after the death of Kaya, in the women's movement, in Lalit, and then in JUSTICE. She outlined the significance and the dynamics of the five demands that we were gathering to support.
Nitin Chinien gave a poetic speech, clearly touched by the support he had received. Eric Triton, too, spoke poetically, about the role of art in bringing happiness and peace, and the commitment of artists to maintaining this role, even in the face of violence.
The "animateur" of the Concert was Marie-Michelle Etienne, whose Radio One programs with Finlay Salesse, where she so sensitively interviewed victims of police brutality, made her the ideal person. She was clearly moved and in turn moved those present.
Then the musicians, inspired by their own commitment, by the electric atmosphere, and by the historic nature of the event, produced music that is further inspiration to all present, proving that "L'Art vaincra", the chorus of the Kreol language song by that name that Eric Triton sang during the concert. The singers Larche, the La Foule group, Yannick Nanette (a creative new, young artist who uses his voice like a musical instrument rather than for words), Ram Joganah, Menwar, Zanzak Arjoon, Nitin Chinien, Eric Triton made up the most composite whole, and were treated by being accompanied by the greatest of percussionists, Jhonny Joseph and the fine guitarist and bass guitarists, Clifford Boncoeur and Frederick Grenade. To put the perfect touch to some numbers during the concert, Eric Triton, on his divine guitar, accompanied the artists.
At the Candle-light ceremony, Jean Claude Bibi, for JUSTICE, in a sharp and outright speech accused certain police officers of, themselves, being "criminals". He called for a truly independent Human Rights Commission, and for enquiring officers who are not, themselves, policemen.
The evening was closed when, by candlelight, we all listened to a clear and dignified speech by the former President of the Repubic, Cassam Uteem, who deplored the beating up of innocent people, and the fact that policemen are beating up people (innocent or guilty) before they have even had their right to come to trial, and to receive a judgement according to law.
Kiki Cerdor , as a surprise, closed the candle-light ceremony by singing Kaya's beautiful "Sant Lamour". Gradually Nitin Chinien and Lindsay Morvan joined in at the microphone, and the entire gathering sang the chorus.