Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission – Hearing Number 195 |09 September 2021
Speaker Mancienne speaks on unlawful detention during the one party era
Speaker of the National Assembly Roger Mancienne was the first person to appear in open session before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday, during hearing number 195.
Mr Mancienne came as a witness to co-operate in case 0389 filed by Claude Robert regarding his unlawful arrest (four months) following a detention order from former President Albert Rene on November 17, 1979.
Mr Robert identified Mr Mancienne as a person who was arrested at the same time, with the latter requesting access to a lawyer which was denied.
Mr Mancienne confirmed that he and the complainant were arrested on the same day and served prison time together, like many others for no specific reason.
Having known Mr Robert before their arrest, Mr Mancienne confirmed that the former was not guilty of anything illegal, but was rather swallowed by a system of political repression.
Regarding access to legal representatives, or lawyers, Mr Mancienne confirmed that mostly every detainee was denied the privilege.
He said his wife started the process to seek for a lawyer but was told that nothing could be done in the immediate, and that maybe only in three months something can be done.
Mr Mancienne explained that the repressions following the 1977 coup was not really selective, but was rather like a huge net which was thrown, with by-catch being caught on several occasions.
He however noted that the incident was a trauma for the whole country’s general population since no one knew they will be arrested, or endure repressive action.
Mr Mancienne noted that the lack of legal representation at that time was purely based on the fact that lawyers saw no prospect, whatsoever in winning any case, while their position and profession were also at risk in case of involvement in political cases.
Regarding the Detention Review Tribunal which was supposed to be set up to deal with the case of the illegally detained citizen, Mr Mancienne said he was not aware of its existence.
Initially set up by the Presidential Decree, the tribunal was supposed to view cases of detainees within one month of their arrest, but according to the chairman of the TRNUC Gabrielle Louise McIntyre, what they found in archives in relation to the 1978 detentions was supposedly the report submitted to institution, while no record whatsoever of any sitting was found.
Mr Mancienne, who was detained for five weeks, said he was brought to the Central Police Station on two occasions, where he was questioned by Tite Morin regarding some of his acquaintances, such as Gilbert Chow, among others.
He noted that there was however no pertinent questions in relation to any serious offence.
Mr Mancienne added that he felt the questions were not really relevant, while the conclusion which was in relation to leaving the country, or going into exile was the main message.
He explained he suspected that his arrest and detention was in relation to his job in the education ministry where, through discussion, he openly opposed the introduction of the National Youth Service (NYS).
He also noted that since a large number of detainees did not publicly show any political affiliation, especially towards the new regime, they were arrested under the theory “if you are not my friend, then you are my enemy”.
Publicly showing that you were against the system put you in danger, while not publicly showing any affiliation, also put you in danger describes the theory and the situation at that time.
He also made reference to people being reported to the authority as another possibility for the cause of arrests and detentions.
Mr Mancienne also gave the TRNUC an account on the country’s political transition since it is a topic in which he had quite a long-time involvement.
During the open session in the afternoon, Honourable Bernard Georges was before the TRNUC as a witness in relation to Case 0145 – Rita Baillon and also as a complainant in Case 0236, representing George Seegar, who he said was very ill and losing his sight.
Case 0236 – George Seegar
Before summarising the complaint with supported documents, Honourable Georges stated that Mr Seegar’s complaint was about a compulsory acquisition in disguise, by government, which forced him to give up his business and land parcels situated at Le Rocher, where he lost the opportunity to grow his business.
He explained that Mr Seegar, a Swiss national who came to Seychelles in the early 1970s from Zambia with the intention of setting up a paint factory in the country, which he did under the name of ‘Tropicolor’, was asked to give up his operation in the mid-1980s and to merge with Penlac, a new entity set up as a joint venture between a Mauritian company ‘Mauvilac’ and the Seychelles government.
Honourable Georges said that Mr Seegar had no say in the compulsory acquisition and he had to give up his business and the land and join Penlac with 30% share holdings. The consequence of that merger resulted in Mr Seegar losing two parcels of land situated at Le Rocher to government. The land and the buildings were leased by government to third parties. He added that Mr Seegar is of the view that his company would have continued to grow, increase in market shares and would have continued to be more profitable, hadn’t he been forced into a venture he had not planned. He complained that because of his forced amalgamation with Penlac, he lost all of those opportunities.
Honourable Georges noted that although Penlac has changed hands and is now a private company, ‘Tropicolor’ still maintains share holdings and a seat on the board of directors. Honourable Georges said he suspects that government wanted to increase paint production in the country but instead of doing it through ‘Tropicolor’ which was well established, they entered into a joint venture with the Mauritian company and as a consequence ‘Tropicolor’ was forced into a venture against its will.
He said that Mr Seegar had stated that his business and land were acquired at the time when the one-party regime was exercising its nationalisation programme and his business was in their sight and he had no choice for him to resist or to make an appeal.
“His complaint is that he was forced into a business venture which he had not planned,” Honourable Georges said.
Case 0145 – Rita Baillon
In part of her testimony before the commission, Rita Baillon had complained about unjustified arrest and detention of her eldest son, Royce Dias, and the planting of drugs (hashish) in his car. Mr Dias, who has since passed away in 1995, was convicted for drug possession and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 1984. He had his sentence commuted to five and a half years following an appeal.
Honourable Georges, who was mentioned as the lawyer who represented Mr Dias, stated that in his 48 years working as a lawyer, the case is the one that he is still unhappy with the result, based on its unfairness in the ruling. He noted that it showed the unjust period of the second republic where it was easy for the state, through its power, to target and deprive people of their liberty.
Honourable Georges said that Mr Dias was targeted because he was not a supporter of the one party state. He added that from time to time, Mr Dias was a subject in President Albert Rene’s speech. He said that his client was driving home to Cascade from Victoria, with his wife, one afternoon and was stopped by the Police Mobile Unit at Petit Paris, where the drugs were planted under the driver’s seat, following a search in his car, which was parked on the police premises. He noted that it was the then Police Commissioner, Andre Kilindo, who discovered the drugs, upon which Mr Dias had alleged that he (Kilindo) was the one who planted the drug in his car.
He stated that for the defence, he had revealed that Mr Dias was a person that was hated by the state and secondly had he known he had drugs under the driver’s seat he would not have stopped on the order of the only one police officer. He explained that exhibit in court was not as is. He further explained that the drug was wrapped in a red paper when found but in court it was not the case, as also stated by the government drug analyst, that he did not receive the drugs to be analysed wrapped in red paper. He said the judge rejected the argument and from there it was clear to him that it was a mounted operation with a planned result.
“Basically the intention was to remove Mr Dias from circulation,” Honourable Georges said.
Honourable Georges said that after his appeal was dismissed, a judge, who was not part of the bench and had heard the discussion by the three presiding judges on the case, did tell him that the appeal was won but to his dismay it was not the case in the final ruling as had been agreed among them. He described the case as a very sad one which to him showed how far the state of the second republic would go to target anybody including the lowest in society. He added that the planting of drugs by the police was among tools used by the state on people it wanted to get rid of.
He stated that although he was a state counselor, he was lucky that he was able to freely defend many people, including political opponents, without getting into a fall-out with the state. He said that government had, at that time, set up state sponsored law firms due to a lack of lawyers in the country.
As a general witness, lawyer Nicole Gabriel was again before the commission to provide context evidence on the constitutional conference which took place in 1992 to mark the country’s entry into the third republic. He said that our country’s return to multi party politics in 1993 follows the Perestroika, responsible for the significant cause of the collapse of the dictatorial Eastern Bloc and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 1991.
He stated that like in some African countries, Seychelles was a one party state, although we were a member of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie. He said that there was pressure from the western powers for the introduction of multi-party politics and Seychelles being partly dependent on the external donors, had no option but to switch from one party rule to multi-party rule. He added that it all started with a visit by former President Albert Rene to the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush (Senior), at the White House, in Washington, in 1989. His visit to the US was followed by that, in a concorde, of former French President, Francois Mitterand, to Seychelles, in June 1990.
Apart from the two above visits, Mr Gabriel said that the Commonwealth summit which took place in Harare, Zimbabwe on October 20, 1991, played the most important role in getting countries to move away from one party rule to multi-party rule. He further said that a communique, with respect to human rights, was issued during the summit and Seychelles, represented by President Rene, signed the communique. He noted that a lot of world leaders managed to convince President Rene to move away from the one party rule.
Mr Gabriel said that the preparation and transition from one party rule to multi-party rule happened quickly following the arrival of President Rene from the Harare Commonwealth summit. He noted that it was in December 1991 that Mr Rene announced for the return of a multi party constitution from one party constitution, during the party’s congress. It was the People’s Assembly who assented to the resolution. Following that, former President James Mancham and other people in exile were invited to participate in the multi-party democracy and free election.
He stated that the country had opted for a presidential and mix parliamentarian style of government and during the election in 1992 for parties to gain the number of candidates to sit on the constitution commission to rewrite the constitution, the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) won 58% (14 seats), the Seychelles Democratic Party (DP) won 33% (8 seats) while the other parties failed to win seats. The first deliberation was held in English behind closed doors and without the participation of the two party leaders, Mr Rene and Mr Mancham. He said after two walk-outs by the DP, the SPPF worked alone on the constitution and the draft that was put in a referendum in November 15, 1992, was rejected (53%) for failing to attain the 60% majority vote. The issues of disagreement were related to role of security entities, delinking between the party and the state, the election list, funding of political parties, obtaining a license, security clearance and country’s symbols among others.
Mr Gabriel said that following the intervention of the Commonwealth, the commission restarted with new members, including the two party leaders and four shared advisors from the two participating political parties, in the discussion, which was held live and in Creole. The constitutional referendum was held on June 18, 1993 and was approved by 73.6% of voters.
Roland Duval & Patrick Joubert