MAURITIUS: Anti-terrorism law leads to political crisis

Issue 

[On February 19, Mauritius' interim president, Supreme Court Chief Justice Arianga Pillay, signed into law anti-terrorism legislation over which his two predecessors had resigned. Twice passed by parliament, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, deemed draconian by the opposition, required presidential assent to become law. Cassam Uteem, president since 1992, resigned on February 15 rather than give his assent to the bill, which he had already refused to validate after parliament first passed it on February 4. His successor, Vice-President Angidi Chettiar, quit for the same reason on February 18. The following statement on the political crisis in Mauritius was issued by the Lalit socialist organisation on February 26.]

The Lalit movement in Mauritius has spearheaded the movement against the new anti-terrorism legislation. We have run a campaign as a party, and we took the initiative to re-call the ad hoc committee which had opposed a previous bit of repressive legislation (the Public Security Act, which has, in fact, never been proclaimed, so strong were the protests). Together we have exposed the fact that terrorism (and also "supposed terrorism", i.e., cases in Mauritius of political agents having shoot-outs or of football hooliganism getting mixed up with hold-ups) is being used as an excuse for denying suspects the right to legal representatives, and denial of bail.

This is why Lalit is making this international appeal to call on you to add your voice to the opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), brought forward by the Mauritian government and finally voted (with a parliamentary opposition walk-out) on February 14.

The POTA is undemocratic and against human rights as it:

1. Gives more power to the police to arbitrarily arrest and to detain people in communicado for 36 hours and even in some cases without requiring a warrant from a magistrate. This is very outrageous as several cases of police torture in recent years, and in dozens of cases, detainees have been found dead while in police custody.

2. Allows a minister to authorise fax/phone and email tapping of any correspondence between people and organisations. This can then be used as "evidence" for arbitrarily arresting people.

3. Attacks the independence and even the sovereignty of the Republic of Mauritius. With this law the CIA, for example, will have a direct way to interfere in the national affairs of the country, with government collusion, in order to declare an organisation "terrorist", to ban it, to declare people "terrorist" and have them get the status of a banned organisation.

As well as the ad hoc committee which unites the totality of the trade union movement, many left political and social organisations, lawyers, and progressive individuals, the law has been opposed by the Bar Council, by the whole of the press, by the ex-chief justice who is also member of the UN Human Rights Committee, and the law has also been criticized by the head of law department at the University of Mauritius.

We have certainly succeeded in making people aware of the dangers represented by this law. And the government had presented it with a "certificate of urgency" trying to fast-track it through, in only two week days! On the night of February 4 when the bill was brought to a vote for the first time, we organised a peaceful candlelight protest in front the National Assembly.

Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth argues that by introducing this law, Mauritius is supposedly in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1373 on terrorism, and that non-compliance with this resolution will lead to economic sanctions and embargoes on the country: This is totally absurd! What is true is that the terrible hidden conditions of the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (in the USA) have now become clear.

Lalit is determined to continue our campaign against this repressive law. We also know that similar repressive laws are being debated and voted in many countries. Thus we feel that a coordinated international campaign would be appropriate.

Our demand now is the immediate repeal of this law, and that the government set up a law review committee to study whether additional laws are necessary or not in the face of new forms of terrorism in the world, and if so, how the laws can be clear and not in breach of our liberty, our fundamental human rights and the country's sovereignty.

We ask you to call or write to the prime minister at <primeminister@intnet.mu> (copy to <lalmel@intnet.mu>) to protest against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and to ask for its immediate repeal.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
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