Freedom in the World
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A draft law containing stronger protections for freedom of assembly was pending at the end of 2012. Following a December 2011 report by the auditor-general revealing severe financial mismanagement by the government over the past two decades, President James Michel launched an investigation into the matter in 2012.
The Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. In 1977, Prime Minister France-Albert René seized power from President James Mancham and made his Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) the sole legal party. In 1992, however, the SPPF passed a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned.
René stepped down in 2004 and was replaced by Vice President James Michel. Michel defeated Wavel Ramkalawan, the leader of the opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP), in the 2006 presidential poll, while the SPPF retained its majority in the 2007 legislative elections.
Michel, running for the People’s Party (Parti Lepep, or PP)—the new name for the SPPF— defeated Ramkalawan with 55 percent of the vote in the May 2011 presidential election. Ramkalawan accused the PP of bribing voters, though observers called the election credible. The SNP boycotted parliamentary elections held in late September and early October 2011, citing alleged misconduct by the PP in the presidential vote and Michel’s failure to implement electoral reforms. The PP captured all 25 directly elected seats and 8 of the 9 proportional seats; the Popular Democratic Movement, formed by a dissident SNP member who disagreed with the boycott, took the remaining seat. Observers from the Southern African Development Community said the voting was credible and transparent.
Discussions between the PP and SNP over political and electoral reforms led to the establishment of the Forum on Electoral Reform by the Electoral Commission (EC). In 2012, the EC submitted a proposal to President Michel outlining a new Public Order Act to modernize outdated statutes accompanying constitutional guarantees for freedoms of speech and assembly. Passage of the law, which would allow political parties to hold public meetings upon giving five days’ notice to the police commissioner instead of requiring permission, was pending at year’s end.
In 2011, the country modified its law to allow pirates captured anywhere beyond its territorial waters to be prosecuted in the Seychelles. In March 2012, the United States handed over 15 suspected Somali pirates to the Seychelles to stand trial. In November, all were convicted of attacking a merchant ship and abducting an Iranian fisherman and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The Seychelles is an electoral democracy. The 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were generally regarded as having met basic international norms, despite the opposition boycott of the latter. The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. The head of government is the president, who appoints the cabinet. Of the National Assembly’s 34 members, 25 are directly elected and 9 are allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote.
The ruling PP remains the dominant party, and the opposition SNP has claimed that its sympathizers face job discrimination in the public sector and police harassment.
Concerns over government corruption have focused on a lack of transparency in the privatization and allocation of government-owned land. A December 2011 report released by the auditor-general revealed nearly two decades of dysfunction in government finances, including unprofessional book-keeping, illegal procedures, and embezzlement. President James Michel launched an investigation that was pending at the end of 2012. Seychelles was ranked 51 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government controls much of the nation’s print and broadcast media, including the daily Seychelles Nation newspaper. Strict libel laws are sometimes used to harass journalists, leading to self-censorship. In October 2012, the chief editor of Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly was convicted of contempt for discrediting a judge in a 2011 article, and was sentenced to apologize to the judge. The government can restrict the broadcast of material considered to be objectionable. The board of directors of the officially nonpartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation includes several non-PP members, though coverage is biased in favor of the ruling party. There have been reports that the state monitors e-mail, chat rooms, and blogs, and opposition activists claim that the government blocks access to opposition party websites.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic country have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference. Academic freedom is generally respected, though PP loyalists are reportedly favored in high-level academic appointments.
The constitution protects freedoms of assembly and association. While public demonstrations are generally tolerated, the government has occasionally impeded opposition gatherings. In May 2012, police beat and charged a man with breaching the peace after he held a sign protesting the authorities’ ineffectiveness in dealing with narcotics in his neighborhood. Human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations operate in the country. Workers have the right to strike, though strikes are illegal until all arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Collective bargaining is rare.
Judges generally decide cases fairly, but face interference in those involving major economic or political interests. The majority of the members of the judiciary are naturalized citizens or foreign nationals from other Commonwealth countries, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised because they are subject to contract renewal. Security forces have at times been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention. Prolonged pretrial detention and overcrowding in prisons are common.
The country’s political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. Islanders of Creole extraction face discrimination, and prejudice against foreign workers has been reported. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for unspecified reasons of “national interest.”
The Seychelles boasts one of the world’s highest percentages of women in parliament, reaching 44 percent in 2011. Most women are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Despite a 2008 National Strategy on Domestic Violence, rape and domestic violence remain widespread.