Let us work with Egyptian government to save Seychellois nationals on death row, appeals Minister Adam
The Seychelles Foreign Affairs Minister Jean paul Adam. (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles Foreign Affairs Minister, Jean Paul Adam, has appealed to the Seychelles public and the media to allow the government of Seychelles to continue in its diplomatic efforts to save three Seychellois nationals who have been sentenced to death by the Egyptian courts.
The call was made during question time in the Seychelles National Assembly today, after several members of Parliament quizzed the Foreign Minister on the status of the death row trio, who were found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to death by execution on April 7, 2013.
The men were arrested on April 22, 2011 by Egyptian police aboard a boat near the Red Sea coastal town of Marsa Alam with three tonnes of cannabis on board.
The three Seychellois, Ronny Norman Jean, Yvon John Vinda and Dean Dominic Loze, were together with the skipper and owner of the vessel, a British national identified as Charles Raymond Ferndale, who also faces the same fate.
On October 15 the Egyptian Court of Cessation rejected their appeal and upheld the death penalty, leading to an online petition being widely circulated to call for the execution to be halted.
Standing behind the families
Adam stated that the chosen approach of both the government and the families of the three men was to continue diplomatic efforts to work with the Egyptian government.
“We do not believe the Egyptian government will react more positively faced with constant media pressure for example, but they will rather react to a government-to-government approach that is based on commitment to their system,” said the minister.
Adam called for the entire nation to stand in solidarity with the families of the men.
“Anyone who is a mother or a father, no matter what a child does, will always love the child and will do all that is necessary to support the child – this does not mean we believe the crime should go unpunished,” he added. “I think the Seychelles government has been clear – we are aware that a crime has been committed but the reality is that the best way to proceed is to engage with the Egyptian government.”
“My appeal is for everyone to support the families: respect their choice, their rights and express solidarity towards them during this difficult time.”
The Foreign Minister said that the government was trying its utmost to find a way in which the death sentence could be commuted to a less severe punishment of life in jail.
Aside from the moral support that the ministry has provided to the trio and their families, the minister said that the government acknowledged that the men had committed a serious crime and had a debt to pay to society.
“They have been caught in a situation where there was drug trafficking involved, we need to recognize that a sentence has been applied and our priority is to work to ensure that the sentence is reduced at least to a life imprisonment and not the death penalty,” he said.
“...we must respect the Egyptian institutions, including the court that delivered the sentence. We are asking for the sentence to be reviewed based on the fact that in Seychelles we do not apply the death sentence but also looking at the facts of the case.”
|The three Seychellois men imprisoned in Egypt: Dean Dominic Loze, Ronny Norman Jean and Yvon John Vinda (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY-NC
A faint hope
In response to a question from the MP for Mont Fleuri, a central district of the main Seychelles island of Mahé, Begitta Jeannvole, Minister Adam confirmed that as far as he was aware, there has never been an incident of a death sentence being revoked before in Egypt.
However, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi recently issued a decree that would allow foreign prisoners in Egypt to be repatriated to their country of origin to serve their sentences, the Seychellois diplomatic officials regained a glimmer of hope.
“We immediately contacted the Egyptian government and followed the request we had made before on the possibility of transferring the three Seychellois to allow them to serve their sentence here,” he said, adding that although it was still unclear if the process could apply to prisoners awaiting execution, discussions with the Egyptian government were still ongoing.
The minister pointed to the recently-appointed Egyptian ambassador to Seychelles’ willingness to discuss the matter as a signal that the Egyptian government was sympathetic to Seychelles’ efforts to have the sentence commuted, but still had to uphold their own rule of law as a sovereign state.
“They cannot say that they will not apply the death sentence to three Seychellois while there are 300 Egyptians that maybe have committed the same crimes and also face the death penalty,” he explained. “This is a reality that we need to deal with... they cannot break their own laws in our favour, and that is why our strategy has always been to engage with the Egyptian authorities and institutions.”
Prisoners are in reasonable condition
The National Assembly representative for the Anse Boileau district on the western side of Mahé, Bernard Arnephy, asked about the condition of the three men, to which the Minister replied that the men’s physical and mental states were as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
The men’s families travelled to Egypt to see their loved ones on November 4, and were accompanied by their lawyer, Dr Basel Mohsem, the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Barry Faure, the Seychelles ambassador in Addis Ababa who is accredited to Egypt, Joseph Nourrice, and the Seychelles’ Consul General designate in Egypt, Dr Mahmood Moussa.
Ambassador Barry Faure carried a letter to President El-Sisi from the Seychelles President, James Michel, once again pleading for clemency for the three.
Adam noted that the three men had been moved to Wadi Natron prison which is about 50km from the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
“With regards to the condition of their detention in the prison, based on the recent visit, we presume that their basic rights are being respected although some specific conditions are quite difficult,” said Adam.
Government not responsible for legal representation
Adam also responded to questions on the legal representation of the trio by clarifying that the government did not have the resources to provide legal counsel to Seychellois accused of crimes in foreign countries.
“The Seychelles government does not have the means if someone is arrested abroad to pay for legal representation – if we were to do this, any Seychellois can be arrested tomorrow in a country and the Seychelles government will have to spend money on a foreign lawyer, which I have to say, will cost a lot. Even the families at the time were approached and were put in contact with possible lawyers but the cost was too high... so they had to be represented by the same lawyer as the British national, Charles Ferndale,” explained the minister.
He went on to add that the men were disadvantaged as they could not say that they did not share the same responsibility as the captain because the case was heard as a single, but said the legal representative was “recognized by the Egyptian legal system as a good lawyer”.
The trio together with their families agreed to the appointment of another lawyer for their appeals and now that all legal recourse has been exhausted, Adam said the men, their families and the government of Seychelles are still working with “eminent” Egyptian lawyer Dr Basel Mohsem, who has previous experience dealing with death penalty cases as all possible strategies are employed to try to have their death sentenced reduced to life imprisonment.