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Seychelles authorities intimidate and disqualify local defence lawyer as fears mount over show-trial of Opposition figures

The lead counsel defending prominent citizens in the Seychelles has been disqualified by default after uncorroborated charges were made against him on the morning of his clients’ bail hearing. On the same day, lawyers from Kobre & Kim, a respected international law firm, also in attendance at the court, were subject to intimidation by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS), who alleged that British and American lawyers were party to fraudulent activity and in breach of immigration and employment laws. All parties strenuously deny such allegations.

The situation represents a dangerous development in the country’s adherence to the rule of law. There is already suspicion locally that the charges against the lawyer’s clients have a political tone to them. Friday’s attempt to intimidate and disqualify the local lawyer from representing his clients only heightens those concerns.
The chaotic bail hearing around which all of this occurred was already unnecessarily delayed, while the lawyer’s client languished in a police station holding cell for over eight weeks, despite suitable female remand facility being available.

Presently, due to the arbitrary application of law, significant procedural, and constitutional defects in the handling of the case, and harassment and intimidate of lawyers for the defendants, it has become apparent that the defendants could now be left without local legal representation. Few lawyers registered at the Seychelles Bar may wish to represent them given the clear lack of separation of powers between the Executive, regulatory authorities, and the judiciary.

Jonathan Huth of Kobre & Kim said: “What we’ve seen to date in the Seychelles Supreme Court 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.

“During a chaotic hearing at the Seychelles Supreme Court on Friday, we witnessed first-hand a further escalation in the denial of due process for one of our clients, Laura Valabhji.

“Local and foreign attorneys have been intimidated in an attempt to deny our clients access to legal advice.
“In all of this, our clients vigorously deny any wrongdoing. The attempts to prevent our clients from receiving a fair trial and to severely undermine our clients’ right to counsel must not succeed.

From what little has been shown about the alleged offences, they are weak allegations from decades ago.”

Mr Huth added:

This case gives real cause for concern about a lack of respect from the Seychelles Court for international standards and the rule of law. We will remain vigilant and will continue to make public any practice of the court which falls short of such standards.