By S. Modeliar
Whatever the outcome of what is known as the Cehl Meeah affair involving him and a girl who is still a minor will depend on the result of the police investigation and the ultimate decision of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) as to whether an offence was committed and whether there is enough evidence to file a case in court. It would be recalled that Cehl Meeah was not prosecuted on murder charges some years back because the then DPP, Mr Rafick Hamuth, felt that the case should not go for trial. He did not give any reasons.
A similar decision was taken in the case of Bertrand Maigrot who was charged with the murder of Vanessa Lagesse by the then DPP, Gérard Angoh. He too did not give reasons.
Though the DPP shall not be under the direction of anybody under the Constitution, one would have expected reasons be given. Our criminal justice is such that the initiative and responsibility for investigations rest with the police initially though there is nothing preventing the police from regularly liaising with the office of the DPP for advice during the investigation.
There has been a lot of comment and speculation on whether Cehl Meeah has committed an offence. Under the Child Protection Act as amended the offence of abducting child is prescribed in section 13C as follows:
(1) Any person who, by force or fraud, without the consent of the legal custodian –
(a) takes away or causes to be taken away a child; or
(b) leads away, decoys, entices or causes to be led away, decoyed or enticed, a child out of the keeping of the custodian or from any place where the child has been placed or is with the consent of the custodian, shall commit the offence of abduction.
Child Protection Act defines a child as an unmarried person below the age of 18 years. The minor in the case involving Cehl Meeah is still under the custody of her parents as she is unmarried and is under 18. The parents have started judicial proceedings to prohibit Cehl Meeah from approaching the minor. From this the inference may be drawn that their consent was not obtained before the minor was taken away. The next issue is whether she was taken away by force or fraud, an element that will be hard to establish given the attitude of the minor and her mindset. The investigators have an arduous task ahead of them. Already she is saying that she will not make any statement to the police.
Notwithstanding the legal subtleties that this case may give rise to, other issues need be addressed. Cehl Meeah has been a preacher of his religious beliefs. That is his strict legitimate right under the Constitution. He has always advocated morality. He is now a Member of Parliament. Can his conduct be considered moral in that whole saga? What moral authority will he have to pontificate on a number of issues beckoning our society? That is a matter for Cehl Meeah and his conscience. No law can compel him to step down as a Member of Parliament but will he feel comfortable in his new role after the saga. One would have thought that there are rules and procedures on the booking of hotel rooms with the presentation of identification. How could minor book a hotel room? If that is true, the hotel needs to be quizzed.
But the most alarming issue relating to the saga is the reaction of those people who stormed the Ministry of Women’s affairs because the minor had been placed under the protection of that Ministry. They wanted explanations. None was owing to them because the law was being applied. The parents had sought the help of the law. Mauritius is a secular society committed to the rule of law. There are avenues to challenge a decision. There are avenues to lodge a complaint. But our society should never tolerate anarchy in any form whatsoever. What has happened in the past weeks must beckon us all. Some people cannot simply instill fear in the midst of our country. Unfortunately so far there has not been a single reaction from the so-called forces vives or any similar organisation. Yet we remember that many people were allowed to react with lightning speed in some press and on private radios to the use of an improper word by the Prime Minister during the last electoral campaign. Independence of thought and the freedom of expression also mean to voice one’s views without any fear. A strong stand must be taken collectively against the acts of these individuals.
At the end of the day the person that should be most concerned and take the lead in nipping in the bud that situation is the Prime Minister as Minister responsible for Home Affairs. His government has been accused in the past of being passive in some particular circumstances. The present government cannot afford to remain passive at this juncture. No group should be allowed to arrogate to itself the right to interfere in the criminal justice system or in judicial proceedings for religious, political or personal reasons. The matter should be taken seriously. Already the law and order situation in Mauritius is not very rosy. Let us try not to worsen it by an attitude of passivity which will constitute a fertile ground for anarchists.
* Published in print edition on 6 August 2010