Mauritius is a multiparty democracy governed by the prime minister, the Council of Ministers, and the National Assembly. International and local observers judged elections for both the prime minister and legislators in 2014 to be generally free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included security force abuse of suspects and detainees; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; government corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women; child marriage; and restrictions on labor rights.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Enforcement of prosecution and punishment was inconsistent and sometimes politically influenced, resulting in impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In 2015 Iqbal Toofany died while in police custody. Police detained him following a routine traffic check, but he died in a hospital the following day. The prosecution of five police officers arrested in connection with his death started in June, and sentencing was expected in February 2019.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there continued to be widespread allegations of police abuse. On November 13, six prison officers stripped naked a Nigerian detainee after the same prison officers beat him and left him without medical assistance. He remained in solitary confinement. On November 19, while appearing in court, a Supreme Court judge ordered that the detainee file a police complaint against the prison officers in order to start a police investigation. By year’s end no arrest had been made.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
While conditions did not always meet international standards, there were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were reports that prison officials failed to provide timely adequate medical assistance. Lack of maintenance of sanitary equipment and the absence of readily available detergent generated hygiene problems in some of the prisons. Inmates’ relatives sometimes turned to private radio stations to denounce hygiene conditions or other problems in the prisons. For example, the Mauritian wife of the Nigerian detainee (see above) called a private radio station to denounce the case.
Administration: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) claimed that every prisoner complaint was dealt with expeditiously. There were allegations of mistreatment, and the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) Division of the NHRC noted an increase in assaults by guards in prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers, including the press, the NPM Division of the NHRC, independent local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the EU, and foreign missions.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally respected these legal requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The police commissioner heads the police and has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces (a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security). The police commissioner reports directly to the prime minister. The NHRC and an independent ombudsman, appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, are empowered to investigate security force abuses. Police have accepted public complaints and referred them to the NHRC since the government disbanded the Police Complaints Investigation Bureau in 2013. In 2016 the Independent Police Complaints Act established a new commission that has the power to investigate allegations against police officers in the discharge of their duties. The law stipulates that the chairperson and members of the commission who are not members of the police force be appointed by the president following advice from the prime minister and consultation with the leader of the political opposition.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution and law require arrest warrants be based on sufficient evidence and issued by a magistrate. A provisional charge based on a reasonable suspicion, however, allows police to detain an individual up to 21 days with the concurrence of a magistrate. If authorities grant bail but the suspect is unable to pay, authorities detain the suspect in the Grand River North West Prison pending trial. Authorities must advise the accused of his or her rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The law requires that authorities arraign suspects before the local district magistrate within 48 hours of arrest. Police generally respected these rights, although they sometimes delayed suspects’ access to defense counsel. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members, but minors and those not advised of their rights were less likely to obtain such access. A magistrate may release an individual on bail the day of arrest, with or without police consent. Authorities may detain individuals charged with drug trafficking for up to 36 hours without access to legal counsel or bail. Courts grant bail for most alleged offenses. There was no report that any suspects were detained incommunicado or for a prolonged period without access to an attorney.
Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrests.
Pretrial Detention: According to data from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the NHRC, and the Bureau of Prisons, due to a backlogged court system and detainees’ inability to post bail, a significant percentage of the prison population remained in pretrial detention. Lawyers believed that prior year figures remained valid and that approximately 40 percent of pretrial detainees typically remained in custody for at least three years before going to trial. Judges routinely credited time served in custody against sentences ultimately imposed.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Trials are typically not timely. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals). Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to consult an attorney in a timely manner. An attorney is provided at public expense when indigent defendants face felony charges. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to confront or question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses against them, and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right also not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to present an appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts respected these rights, although the extensive case backlog significantly delayed the process.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. The law provides access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. It also provides for individuals to seek civil remedies for such violations. As an alternative to the judicial system, the constitution provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints from the public and members of the national assembly against government institutions and to seek redress for injustices committed by a public officer or other authority acting in an official capacity. The ombudsman can make recommendations but cannot impose penalties on a government agency. After exhausting all local appeals, individuals or organizations can appeal decisions to the United Kingdom’s Privy Council, which is the highest court of appeal. The government respected courts’ decisions.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. There were continued unsubstantiated claims that police tapped the mobile telephones and electronic correspondence of journalists.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the law was amended on October 31 to prevent internet users from posting anything that could cause “annoyance, humiliation, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to any person” on social media. Anyone found guilty faces 10 years imprisonment.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
The government owned the sole domestic television network, MBC TV, and opposition parties and media commentators regularly criticized the station for its allegedly progovernment bias and unfair coverage of opposition parties as well as alleged interference in the network’s daily operations by the prime minister’s senior adviser. International television networks were available by subscription or via cable. Stringent limitations on foreign investment in local broadcast media contained in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act were deterrents to the establishment of independent television stations.
Violence and Harassment: Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of violence or harassment against journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: On November 8, the immigration services of Dubai interrogated and threatened to deport a Mauritian citizen living in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly posting offensive comments on social media against the Mauritian government. The interrogation was allegedly the result of an Interpol investigation. Mauritian press reported, however, that a senior member of the Mauritian government may have intervened to initiate the Dubai authorities’ action. Additionally there were anecdotal reports that a government agent intimidated the relatives of a social media user to discourage them from posting antigovernment comments online.
The government continued its 1989 ban on The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. While bookstores could not legally import the book, purchasers could buy it online without difficulty.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 56 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Foreign Travel: In cases where individuals were arrested and released on bail, the government generally seized the person’s passport and issued a prohibition order preventing such individuals from leaving the country.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees or asylum seekers in the country.