Choosing one’s battles

26 mars 2024, 09:15


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It’s a tough and painfully brave war that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Rashid Ahmine, and his valiant colleagues are waging on our behalf against the Financial Crimes Commission and the State. A war to safeguard our rights and freedoms in a democratic and free society.

While the battle is raging, please join me in welcoming some ‘eminent’ King’s Counsel who have come all the way from Britain to plead against the separation of powers and defend the erosion of rights and freedoms they happily enjoy in their own country and which no one would dare challenge. The hefty fees of these gentlemen will be paid by us, including those of us who will be denied justice if the gentlemen have it their way.

It is not my intention to deny them the right to choose the causes they want to defend. It is however important to understand what is at stake in our local context. Ever since this government was voted into power by 27% of the population eligible to vote, it has been busy legislating an arsenal of laws. None – I repeat NONE – of these laws was meant to enlarge the democratic space in this country. On the contrary, a large number of these laws were repressive, exclusionary and oppressive, intended to undermine human rights and entrench executive power, especially that of the prime minister. And paradoxically, instead of being a tool of justice, some laws became instruments of oppression. Think of all the IT laws. Think of what came to be known as the Hofman law that saw Patrick Hofman being declared ‘prohibited immigrant’ overnight and forced to leave the country with his Mauritian wife in tow. Remember the circumstances in which the latter, our compatriot, died far away from her family and friends. Think of the Immigration Act 2022, which Lindsey Collen is bravely challenging in court. Think of the law that allows the prime minister to decide which foreign citizens our children are allowed to marry. I could go on.

All these laws were happily voted by our majority parliamentarians. Then came the Prosecution Commission Bill which was scuppered in the nick of time thanks to the bravery of one man – former Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Duval and his team.

That Prosecution Commission has come back in the guise of the Financial Crimes Commission – a piece of legislation which threatens the essence and foundation of the Mauritian Justice System. It basically gives one man, appointed by the prime minister – let that sink in – with little public credibility, a poor record in fighting corruption and instead protecting those in power from public scrutiny – virtually unlimited powers: he can arrest you, raid your house, search you, listen in on your conversations (albeit with a judge’s order), keep you in detention for as long as he decides... He can also cut loose those he wishes to and discontinue legal proceedings against them. All this without going through the Office of the DPP!

If this commission existed a few years ago, my humble guess is that many of the political opponents who were arrested, humiliated and detained on trumped up charges that the court dropped would still be rotting in jail! Because the DPP would not have had any power to protect their basic human right guaranteed by the constitution – that of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The DPP has chosen his battle. The police commissioner and his King’s Counsel have chosen theirs. As we cannot stand and watch our rights being relentlessly encroached and eroded, we make no secret of the side we have taken. Let History be the judge.

A third edition of Touria Prayag’s book “Provisional Charges: The Untold Human Stories” and her second book: “#BLD: When Mauritius Lost its Bedside Manners” are now available at Librairie Le Cygne, Le Printemps Hobby World and all the Bookcourt outlets.