Galleries more

Videos more

Dictionary more

Women's Demonstration as Paul Bérenger becomes Prime Minister


At midday on Tuesday, 30th September, twelve members of the women's organization, Muvman Liberasyon Fam, for ten minutes stood, all with their arms spread out wide and holding on to each others forearms, on the pavement between the Prime Minister's Office and the Parliament Building in Port Louis. The Public Gathering Act makes illegal any demonstration of twelve people, as well as any demonstration held on a day when there is Parliament. Within minutes a large gathering had formed outside Parliament.

Each of the women had printed in white letters on dark green cloth sewn on to their blouses the words: "P. Bérenger, Lamor Kaya, Purswit Kote?"(P.Bérenger, In the case of Kaya's death, where are the criminal charges?") Paul Bérenger the new Prime Minister, who was at the time of the demonstration just four hours away from being sworn in, was also reminded in a five page letter that his record as Leader of the Opposition and as Vice-Prime Minister, on the issue of the death in police custody of the musician Kaya in 1999, was not a very good one. The letter places responsibility for attacking the impunity of officers of the State squarely on the new Prime Minister. The officers in charge of security at the Parliament gate refused to take delivery of the MLF letter.

The 12-women-demonstration, some fifty-foot long in all, all the women still arms wide apart and linked, then wound its way around to the Front of Government House, so as to leave the letter there. Here the official red carpet and red-carpeted podium were already set up for the swearing in ceremony. The women walked on the red carpet and the podium, thus making the timing of their demand clear.

Coming at the very moment when there is a state of mutiny in the country's prisons, the demonstration was also a reminder of the State's refusal to prosecute officers implicated in deaths and injuries in detention. The day before the demonstration the Commissioner of Prisons had been removed from his post, following a mutiny and a vicious revenge by officers in charge of prison security. Since the problems in the Prisons, the Government removed prison security from the Ministry of Reform Institutions and put it under the Prime Minister's department. Since then, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Remand prisoners' food from the family was stopped. Visits were decreased. And, prisons have continued to get more and more crowded. Nearly half of all those in prison are on remand, awaiting trial, most of them unable to pay bail.

There is a rising call, amongst women, for food to be able to be taken to remand prisoners, and to restore visiting.

The main background to the mutinies in the prisons is the serious overcrowding. There is now also a call, from women, for all remand prisoners not being held on charges concerning violent acts, to be granted bail even if they cannot pay, on the basis of their own undertaking to appear in Court. This is a particularly reasonable demand given that there are white colour criminals at large in the case of the "disappearance" of some Rs800,000,000 ($25,000,000) from the Mauritius Commercial Bank, as well as the disappearance of some Rs 85,000,000 from Rogers and Air Mauritius. Because they have lots of money, they are not locked up prior to their cases. Given this reality of massive corporate theft, women are also beginning a call for the "reprieve" of all prisoners guilty of theft and other forms of embezzlement less than a certain sum of money.

The recent rebellion in prison was a direct result of the isolation and punishment being meted out to the HIV Positive prisoners. Poor conditions in prison, violence and rape, drug-abuse inside, have all contributed to the prison becoming a vector for the illness.

The Muvman Liberasyon Fam, supporting Kaya's widow, Ms. Veronique Topize, is calling for the truth to be established and justice to be done, in the case of the death of Kaya in the Alcatraz Police Cells in February, 1999.

Of the five doctors who gave testimony at the Judicial Inquiry, which is now part of the Director of Public Prosecution's dossier, four said that Kaya had died an unnatural death as a result of violence. Two of the four had examined his body, two had examined his brain tissue. There was only one doctor, Dr White, and he was brought in by the then Police Advisor, David Shattock, who claimed that Kaya's death was supposedly natural. He had neither examined the body nor looked at tissue. He had merely attacked one of the Pathologist's reports, on the basis of a poor translation into English with the key line about the head injury missing.

On the basis of this, and other important factors, like that fact that while Kaya was found face down in his cell, according to the police thesis, the blood from his nose had run upwards against gravity into his ear. They could not explain why there was a clear mark from the prison door on the back of Kaya's feet, which had been squashed under the door.

The MLF is, in particular, calling for proper criminal charges for this homicide to be laid against the three officers of the State in charge of Kaya at the time of his death, police officers Anne-Marie, Nepaul and Ramdin.