Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission – Hearing Number 132 |27 November 2020
Grand Police dungeon resurfaces as more victims share their ordeal
Opened in the late eighties, the Grand Police High Security Prison, declared a special prison and administered by the army, has been the highlight of many complaints brought before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC).
Several individuals, as well as family members, have come forward to give evidence on atrocities, torture and even murders that occurred at the prison which was next to an army camp.
In yesterday’s session two individuals, namely Joseph Edouard and Ronny Ethève, gave accounts on their ordeal suffered at the hands of soldiers at Grand Police.
Both, arrested without charges, were brought to the dungeon where they were tortured by soldiers who, according to the victims, took pride in what they were doing.
The other witness at yesterday’s session was Gaetan Pierre whose complaint was based on the illegal arrest and deportation of her wife 12 years ago and the ordeal that the family went through.
It is worth noting that in the cases of Mr Ethève and Mr Pierre, both incidents happened after the reintroduction of the multi-party system.
Case 0299: Joseph Edouard
In his complaint, Mr Edouard said he was arrested in 1988 in the Mont Fleuri district at around 7pm by the police who informed him that he was being arrested under the Security Act.
He spent one night at the district police station, before being taken at the Central Police Station the following day, before being transferred to the Grand Police prison the same day where he was placed straightaway into a dark cell.
He was then interrogated by the late Colonel Macdonald Marengo who quizzed him regarding safes that were being robbed at that time, before being brutally beaten by the latter and other soldiers, suspecting his involvement in the activities.
According to Mr Edouard, his family was not aware of his arrest, or location at that time.
He added that during that time he was not allowed to take a bath, while a latrine bucket was left in the cell for many days.
After a while he was involved in hunger strike for 18 days where he was not allowed to drink water if he did not eat.
After one month he was released from the dark cell and transferred to the main block where he mingled with other suspects in the safe robbing cases.
Mr Marengo, who was in charge of the prison, informed them that they were not there just to eat, but to do hard labour as well.
Following the warning, one of the inmates, the late Dave Benoiton, suggested that they escape instead of enduring the hard labour.
Mr Edouard suggested that they started another hunger strike instead of escaping, but his fellow inmate explained that it would be just a waste of time since they would not be released no matter what.
Being in the same cell with fellow inmate Saunders Vital, Mr Edouard tried to convince him not to escape, but the latter was determined to go and informed him that he was leaving.
Thinking about the interrogation and torture he will endure for not informing the authority about the plot, Mr Edouard decided to hop on the bandwagon and took part in the escape.
He explained that if he was in separate cell, he would not have escaped on that day, but he had no other choice.
Five of them took part in the escape, climbing over the fence of the prison, walking through bushes of Anse Forbans until early morning.
He explained that three warning shots were fired behind them.
They remained in the bushes during the day until sundown when they moved to Anse à la Mouche where they spent another night.
Mr Edouard also explained when it came to food, it was Mr Benoiton’s task, along with another inmate.
They then stole a fibreglass boat at Anse à la Mouche heading toward Ile aux Cerf, before going to Bel Ombre to avoid detection from army patrol boats.
They then headed towards Silhouette where they saw a patrol boat, but luckily for them, they were not noticed.
They reached Silhouette in the morning where they landed at Anse Etienne and spent one night.
The following morning, they met an inhabitant of the island who interrogated them to which they replied that they were looking for crabs to use as baits for their fishing trip.
Mr Edouard said less than ten minutes after, they noticed army planes doing patrols at the back part of the island.
Suddenly one of the escapees shouted army and according to Mr Edouard the soldiers opened fire on them, hitting Mr Benoiton in the waist.
One of the inmates ran into the bushes and the army threatened the remaining four at gun point if he did not surrender, which he did after several calls.
He explained that one of the soldiers kicked one of the inmates in the face, blaming him to instigate the escape since he was an ex-member of the force.
Coming down on the patrol vessel, Mr Edouard said the commander warned them that they will be going through hell at the hands of Mr Marengo.
They were then taken to the Bel Eau army headquarters where they were beaten by soldiers, before being thrown out of the truck onto the concrete floor.
The captured convicts were then taken back to the Grand Police prison in a Pinzgauer where they were heavily assaulted all along the way by soldiers with the stock of their rifles.
He said one of the inmates was afraid of being killed, but he, Mr Edouard, reassured him that they will not die since there was video evidence of them being thrown over following their capture.
Upon arriving at Grand Police, their feet were tied to the vehicle while their whole bodies were dragged on the concrete road, until their bones were exposed.
One of the soldiers even stubbed out his cigarettes in Mr Edouard’s fresh wounds, before splashing salt water all over them.
This, he said, should be treated as attempted murder since it was traumatic.
Their next ordeal was to clean their cells which Mr Edouard said was covered in faeces which they left behind prior to their escape.
Again, this he said should be treated as attempted murder since their exposed wounds were at risk of being infected.
Following that, Mr Edouard and another inmate started another hunger strike which lasted for about two weeks, before Dr Ramadoss (the army doctor back then) came and offered them some glucose.
They were then taken to the Police Mobile Unit (PMU) headquarters at Petit Paris where they remained for about a month, during which they went to Bel Eau for dressing.
Following that, they were taken back to Grand Police where they went on another hunger strike to protest.
Mr Edouard said the hunger strike was aimed at taking his own life since his faith was indecisive as he did not know what was going on.
He explained that Mr Marengo told him even if he died, it would not be a problem.
He added that he refused to take glucose but was forced to at gunpoint, before being taken to the PMU headquarters again where they were given porridge due to their health conditions.
While there, the then Commissioner of Police, Anthony Camille, visited them and offered them Vaseline petroleum jelly for their wounds.
Mr Edouard said he later realised they were being kept until the scars faded so not to attract public attention.
Upon his release, Mr Edouard went to see the Police Commissioner who asked him to stop doing whatever he was doing, to which he maintained his innocence.
As conclusion, Mr Edouard explained that his detention was purely malicious since no charges were ever put on him, including escaping prisons and stealing a boat.
He added that he is ready to forgive the perpetrators for their action.
Commenting on the case, chairperson of the TRNUC, Gabrielle Louise McIntyre, said the treatments received were horrendous and inhumane, even if the people were guilty of all accusations against them.
Case 0250: Ronny Ethève
On December 7, 2001 which was an election day, Mr Ethève was arrested at his residence at Takamaka and forced into a jeep, driven by army officer Didace Hoareau who at that time was a Sub-Lieutenant.
On his way home he saw an installation involving lighted candles and the photo of Wavel Ramkalawan (now the Head of State) which he kicked and took home the photo.
He was snatched off his bed and taken to Grand Police where upon arrival he was constantly beaten with Polyethylene pipe and rifle stocks until he nearly passed out.
Mr Ethève suddenly heard one of the soldiers saying ‘La in bon la’ before losing consciousness.
When he woke up, he found himself still at Grand Police wedged between a wall and tree trunk, bleeding and all swollen up.
He struggled and managed to climb up the road and find his way home where his companion fainted upon seeing his state.
At around 6am, her companion’s cousin came over and took his photo, before calling the ambulance.
Once at the Anse Royale hospital, the doctor on duty referred him directly to the Seychelles Hospital due to the severity of his injuries.
Mr Ethève said he does not remember the trip to the hospital and he regained consciousness the following day at the D’Offay Ward.
One day during dressing at the English River Health Centre, a nurse informed him that there was a funny smell coming from his hand and he was sent to see a specialist who removed the cast and recommended an urgent surgery.
He underwent three unsuccessful surgeries, before Dr Danny Louange attempted a fourth one which once again was unsuccessful.
He received social assistance of R2,550 for six months while undergoing physiotherapy, before it was decided that he was not eligible for further assistance.
Following that, his fellow dockers encouraged him to come down to the fishing port to perform light duties so that he could earn a living.
Due to the beating, other than his hand defect, Mr Ethève lost four teeth and part of his sight.
He went to see lawyer France Bonté who sarcastically explained to him that on that particular day it was his turn to be beaten by the army.
The lawyer referred to him as a random chicken which was selected to be cooked on that particular day.
Bitter about the incident, Mr Ethève said he is not ready to forgive his abusers and asked the TRNUC the permission to be present if ever they are called in to give evidence so that he can ask them just two simple questions.
He added that he wrote to ex-president Albert Rene and Chief of Staff Clifford Roseline for clarifications but never received any answer.
Mr Ethève added that while undergoing treatment in Chennai, India, ex-Colonel Marengo apologised to his mum who was also a patient there for the incident which he said he was not aware of.
Case 0206: Gaetan Pierre
The third person to appear before the commission in open session yesterday was ex-laboratory technician and soldier Gaetan Pierre who spoke about malicious immigration issues regarding her ex-partner and also his involvement in the 1982 army mutiny.
Mr Pierre joined the army in April 1981 and did his training on Coetivy, before he was assigned the duty of teaching politics within the force due to his academic abilities.
On the day of the Army mutiny Mr Pierre claimed he was on pass (off duty) but decided to sleep in the barrack after strolling in town, thinking that it would be easier for him to resume duty the following morning.
It was late during the night that he and other soldiers heard gunshots, before they were ordered to dress up in their camouflage and report to the office.
Once there, he was given the responsibility of a group of recruits and asked to take position at Radio Seychelles, which was just below the Union Vale Army Camp (UVC).
Upon realising that the UVC was also already under the control of loyal soldiers, Mr Pierre and his group stole a car and headed North where they took refuge at Glacis.
They then gave themselves up at the Glacis Police Station, but according to him, no one from the military turned up to pick them up, so they decided to walk until they were picked up by a group of Tanzanian soldiers at La Retraite.
For that he was sentenced to two years in prison.
According to him, they suspected that the soldiers involved in the mutiny spoke to him regarding their plans since he was an instructor and was supposed to be looked up to.
Once out of the army, it was very difficult for him to get a proper job, especially in education where he worked before joining the army, so he ended up working as a stevedore at the fishing port.
It was there that he got lucky and managed to start his maritime career which he is still doing now.
Mr Pierre’s second and most pertinent issue at yesterday’s hearing was the kidnapping and deportation of his Russian partner, then wife 12 years ago.
He spoke about the various malicious tactics, including illegal detention of his wife.
Mr Pierre explained that based on his political activities (being an active opposition supporter) his family life was destroyed and until now her daughter is living far away from him.
He explained that based on the difficulties encountered, he had to spend a lot of money, including overseas housing, airfares and lawyer fees.
He added that only after confronting ex-president James Michel in a public consultative meeting that his wife was allowed to come back to Seychelles, while the latter apologised for not investigating the case before authorising the deportation.
He further added that due to all the traumas, his wife decided to leave Seychelles for good until today and his biggest heartbreak is to be away from her daughter.