The greatest threat to democracy is a government that fails to protect its citizen’s freedom and liberty as aggressively as it pursues justice.
As the legal case against the group that has come to be known as the “Seychelles 9” proceeds, more questions appear to be presenting themselves than answers. As a reminder, the case involves nine Seychellois arrested between November of last year and January of this year on a mix of charges reported to be trumped up. The targets of Wavel Ramkalawan’s government crackdown are all known to have been associated with the government of former President Rene. This has included former ministers, military officers, senior advisors as well as family members of the island’s former President.
People following the intricacies of the case are already familiar with the range of problematic issues which have been apparent. These have included violations of the defendants’ human rights, withholding legal representation and the government doing everything in its power, including employing intimidation tactics, to scare off the defendants’ international lawyers. The involvement of terrorism and weapons charges in the case raised eyebrows even further, leading the government to bring in external “experts” who have yet to corroborate their claims.
The case’s latest development has included two of the justices on the case, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Anthony Fernando and Justice Samia Andre recusing themselves from the bail hearing of one of the defendants, Laura Valabhji. In reference to the case against her it had been claimed that “there is simply not one jot, one iota, one piece of evidence that directly implicates Laura Valabhji in this alleged offence”. Lack of evidence has not swayed the courts, who have to date refused Mrs. Valabhji’s application for bail. It was most probably this lack of evidence and insistence on prosecuting a seemingly innocent woman that led to the justices recusing themselves. Coincidentally, inside sources indicated to Seychelles Watch that these were the justices rumoured to be most sympathetic to Mrs. Valabhji’s bail application and improving her conditions.
The recusal should be seen in the context of vast government interference which we have seen throughout the course of the trial. Considering their staunch commitment to justice, it is hard to be believe that the justices, including the President of the court, would recuse themselves when such a severe miscarriage of justice was being perpetrated. Rather, it is clear to those familiar with the inner working of the Seychelles justice system under Wavel Ramkalawan, that this recusal must have been forced by government as a means of ensuring Mrs. Valabhji stays incarcerated despite legitimate grounds for bail. Keeping her incommunicado and separated from her husband is the only way to ensure that whatever ulterior motive lies behind the arrest is not exposed. These considerations have also been what has supported the court’s decision to not allow unsupervised visits between the Valabhji couple, as well as with their attorneys, meetings which must be held in private in order to plan their defence.
This resignation has been coupled with continued unexplained delays in Mrs. Valabhji’s next bail hearing, which according to a recent announcement will be held during its August session, nine months after her arrest in December 2021. The excuse given, alongside the recusal of the justices, is that Justice Dr Mathilda Twomey and Justice Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza are currently abroad, with only Justice Fiona Robinson available for the hearing. Three justices are required for a bail hearing.
Mrs. Valabhji on the other hand has pleaded to hold her bail hearing sooner rather than later. Aside from her immediate interest in finally being released to house arrest and being held in humane conditions, Mrs. Valabhji has made it clear that it is uncertain that she will have access to legal representation in August, as she is represented by international council. A defendant having adequate access to legal representation would appear to be a sufficient reason to consider her request, which was denied.
These peculiar decisions regarding the bail hearing are coupled with further inconsistencies and questionable decisions that have been made by the court time and time again. Chief Justice Ronny Govinden recently imposed an arbitrary (and illegal) limit on Mrs. Valabhji’s legal representation. Only last week he refused to admit the defendant’s third lawyer, with his justification being, according to witnesses in the court, that the defendant already had two lawyers. The Seychellois legal system does not impose limitations on the amount of lawyers a defendant may employ.
The lack of fairness before the courts in Seychelles has been evident throughout the course of the trial. As time progresses, the extent to which this problem plagues the highest courts in the land has become apparent. And as the adage goes, “There is no greater threat to a free and democratic nation than a government that fails to protect its citizen’s freedom and liberty as aggressively as it pursues justice”.