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How a Police State Develops


Here is a brief case study in how a police state develops. It happens piecemeal, on apparently minor points, and at each stage, it only happens with the tacit consent of people. There is collusion.

When LALIT informed the Police Commissioner that we intended to hold our Diego Garcia demonstration last month (now rescheduled for 7 April), his office insisted that we produce a bit of paper from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping in which we would be granted permission to use the Government's roads for the march. In LALIT we know that no law said that we had to get this bit of paper in order to get our fundamental right to hold a peaceful march. We therefore objected. The police officers concerned insisted. One of their key arguments at this stage, and this is what this article is about, was that "everyone else who has held a demonstration over the past year has got this authorization from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure". Indeed, when we have checked we have found that many NGOs and even Unions have in fact been bowing down before this totally unacceptable condition, and producing this ridiculous bit of paper. They have thus colluded.

Because LALIT is a political party, and a political party that wants more freedom for everyone, and we are not just an NGO or a Union, we at once saw that to accept this exigency of the Police was dangerous. It would mean we were acquiescing in taking the slippery slope towards Mauritius becoming a police state, where new regulations and administrative procedures can be invented by the Police, without having to go through the elected National Assembly at all. This would be an attack on fundamental human rights hard won through past struggles. Can anyone imagine our human rights depending on some clerk in some ministry faxing some bit of paper about road works? You don't get the bit of paper, you can't hold a march. Of course, LALIT had to sacrifice the ideal date for our planned march in order to challenge the Police in the Supreme Court. But it was necessary, and well worth it.

When we took the Police Commissioner to the Supreme Court, at the very last minute before the Case, the Police withdrew their objection. It is our assumption that the State Law Office refused to defend the Police Commissioner in the Supreme Court for the simple reason that they didn't have a leg to stand on, so the Police had to drop the requirement for the bit of paper. Our Case was thus noted in the Supreme Court, and we have effectively won the right for everyone not to have to send this bit of paper.

But are NGO's and Unions still contacting the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Road Transport and Shipping in order to hold demonstrations? Are the bourgeois political parties still doing this?

We call on them publicly to become a little more caring of human rights, if this is the case.

LALIT notes that recently the Courts threw out another Police-invented procedure. The Police had been insisting that every one of 60 years of age had to have a medical check-up in order renew their driving license every year. Eventually a citizen refused, was taken to Court and the Magistrates found that there had never been any such a law. The practice had been totally invented by the Police, and was illegal. It was fortunately stopped.

It is vital that organizations take care not to collude with the increasing infringements of our hard-won political rights.