Human rights abuses
This case has resulted in a long list of human rights abuses including: the denial and intimidation of counsel, abysmal physical conditions, arrest and intimidation of associates, lack of evidence of wrongdoing, no access to evidence, changing the law to ensure a conviction, and even the filming of exposed persons in their cells. In many cases, these conditions are actively pursued to slow the legal process and intimidate the defendants. These are shocking tactics and clearly show the ambition of the Government of Seychelles.
Denial and intimidation of counsel
Uncorroborated charges were made against certain defendants’ lead counsel on the morning before bail hearings, putting him in a position of professional conflict and rendering him unable to represent Laura. In addition, the license of practising defendant lawyers were suspended. On the same day, lawyers from Kobre & Kim, a respected international law firm, in attendance as observers at the court, became subject to intimidation by the ACCS, which alleged that the British and American lawyers were in breach of Seychellois employment laws and could not represent their clients. These tactics are clearly intended to silence legal teams and prevent them from receiving a fair judicial process.
As a result, few lawyers registered at the Seychelles Bar may wish to represent them, given the small pool of qualified persons and the risk of intimidation or false accusations they may encounter / the clear lack of separation of powers between the Executive, regulatory authorities, and the judiciary.
Defendants were left without suitable legal representation and were compelled to represent themselves as defendants in court on 28 January. At the outset of proceedings on that day, they was once again presented by counsel for the Government with a ‘last minute’ affidavit in relation to matters pertaining to allegations against them, once again preventing their long-overdue application for bail.
Many defendants, were kept in appalling conditions under the control of the authorities, and were in breach of their human rights. Clear evidence was supplied to the Court and authorities demonstrating the damage that Laura’s prison conditions were having on her health.
Defendants have been subject to degrading conditions, hidden away from the eyes of the Seychelles public, who would be sickened by the ways that their government were treating prisoners held under unjust circumstances.
Arrest and intimidation of associates
What we have seen to date in the Seychelles Supreme Court, this case can best be described as a show-trial, founded on a politically motivated prosecution case riddled with errors of fact, procedural defects, and breaches of the basic principles of due process. Government, judge and prosecution act as if driven by one and the same political motivation, ungoverned by any notion of the rule of law.
The accused were aligned with the political party in opposition to those currently in government and the ACCS. The Commission, under pressure to produce results, has been articulated publicly by individuals outside of the judicial process and the President himself on multiple occasions. As such, the government of Seychelles has resorted to the arrest and intimidation of any and all associates of the former president Albert René.
No evidence of wrongdoing provided
Many defendants have not been presented with any substantial evidence that would point to them being implicated in the alleged offence and from what little has been shown about the alleged offences, they are weak allegations from decades ago.
The treatment of the defendants in this case is deeply concerning and represents a dangerous development in the Republic of Seychelles’ adherence to the rule of law and observation of international standards.
Exposed vulnerable female defendants filmed in cells
Multiple female defendants have reported being watched whilst showering in their cells during their time in incarceration. These reports are sickening and indicates the levels that President Ramkalawan’s government will sink to in order to make the defendants in the politically motivated show trial feel threatened.
These defendants have had their dignity stripped in ways that are equally as humiliating as the allegations being levelled against them. These women, mothers of children, who in some cases do not understand as to why they are gone, have been reduced to despicable levels of treatment.
The Government ‘Agent’ – ACCS
Established under the 2016 Anti-Corruption Act, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) is the government’s agent of choice to pursue the case against the defendants. Having initially been very slow in meeting its remit, the ACCS received additional technical support from the European Union, including advice from three senior investigators (Ian McDonald, Kevin Carty and Pat Humphrey), to reinforce the commission’s capacity to conduct investigations, alongside funding of R6.7m (€450,000). Shortly afterwards, a UK Queens Counsel (QC) was appointed as senior adviser to the ACCS. Steven Powles QC, of Doughty Chambers in London, famous for its work on human rights and rule of law, made even more high profile by the work of a fellow barrister, Amal Clooney, was sworn in as a State Counsel in Seychelles. Statements from the ACCS suggest that Mr Powles QC is working with the ACCS prosecution on the Seychelles case that includes former colleagues and family members of the former President. More recently, he has been appointed lead counsel for the Attorney General’s office prosecuting the case on the alleged discovery of arms and ammunition.
The Seychelles judiciary has repeatedly ignored the longstanding notions of corruption within Seychelles, choosing only when it suited it to act upon it.
Presidential pressure to deliver
Huge pressure is on the ACCS to get results, especially after the Government rushed through several laws and amendments designed to grant ACCS broad prosecutorial powers and enable more efficient prosecuting of alleged corruption. For May de Silva, the ACCS chief executive, this did not alleviate the pressure on her and her team to ‘get results’. Hard pressed by the new President, she took action against his rivals.
Speaking on 23 January 2021, the President set out his expectations. Having committed R1.8 million to finance seven investigators and setting a timeframe of one year for the commission to provide some form of satisfactory result, he stated: “We expect results. We will expect that corruption is adequately investigated and results brought forward. The law is above us all and when I say this, I mean all who are engaged in corrupt acts should watch out. I want to during this year see results, and if by the end of 2021 there are no results, during next year’s SONA I will announce that the commission is closing.”
It is no coincidence that all of the defendants were arrested in November and December 2021 on trumped up charges, as time was very much running out.