Yapa’s deportation a travesty of justice

THE decision to deport a Sri Lankan national who was in the middle of a labour dispute with controversial firm China Garment Manufacturers (CGM) made very depressing reading.

Ranil Yapa was deported even though he was holding a High Court order blocking the deportation.

We are not surprised that Yapa’s lawyer has now filed a contempt of court charge against the home affairs minister, the director of immigration and the commissioner of police.

It is revealing that the police when challenged why they were pushing for the deportation even in the face of the High Court order allegedly told Yapa that they were acting on “instructions from the authorities”.

That’s a worrying admission.

What the deportation seems to suggest is that a powerful clique within the corridors of power can override decisions of the courts with impunity.

It is important that Lesotho, as a constitutional democracy where the rule of law is the cornerstone of our democratic project, respect the courts.

The mighty and powerful among us must never be allowed to thumb their noses at our courts.

We must view this deportation not from the narrow “CGM versus Yapa” perspective but from the wider implications for the rule of law.

We would like to agree with respected human rights lawyer Haae Phoofolo who said “the government should set a fine example of obeying courts and abiding by orders of the courts”.

We should all get very worried indeed when the government gives the impression that it is deliberately ignoring High Court orders.

The deportation strikes us as yet another example of the shocking abuse of state power.

We believe if Yapa had violated any law he should have been arraigned before the courts to face justice.

But he was never given that opportunity.

What we saw was the case of a man who was condemned privately within the corridors of power only to be summarily deported without being granted an opportunity to defend himself.

What makes his case particularly shocking is that he had raised serious allegations about massive fraud and tax evasion against his employer.

Of course Yapa is no angel in the whole fiasco.

It cannot be denied that he had been part of these dodgy deals for years. He only decided to spill the beans after his employer fired him last year.

But all the same we see Yapa as a man who had threatened to come clean on his past and when he finally decided to do so, he was given a kick in the teeth.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the manner the home affairs ministry and immigration departments handled his case.

We have reasonable grounds to suspect that Yapa was deported at the behest of CGM, the company with which he was locked in a labour dispute.

It also suggests the embattled company worked closely with certain powerful elements within the government to have him deported.

Our conclusion is that what happened was a travesty of justice.

We should count ourselves fortunate that we seem to have a fiercely independent judiciary that is not at the beck and call of the executive.

To its credit the executive has respected the independence of the judiciary by not interfering with the running of the courts.

This has led to a healthy balance between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

We all know respect for the judiciary by the executive is a key element of a functional democracy.

It is precisely for this reason that we are worried that what happened two weeks ago seems to go against all that we stand for as a democratic country where the rule of law is sacrosanct.

We are certainly curious to understand who issued the final order to deport Yapa.

The filing of the contempt of court charge against the officials who were behind the controversial deportation should send a clear message that we are a country that seeks to respect and uphold the rule of law.

The day we allow politicians to interfere with the running of the courts would be a sad day for Lesotho.

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