Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Seychelles made history on Monday when the Supreme Court sentenced two men to life in prison for trafficking of cannabis. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to this news suggests it might be dubious history indeed.

News that Judge Mohan Burhan had on Monday sentenced two men, Jean Francois Adrienne, a 34 year-old farmer and carpenter from Anse Royale, and Terrence Servina, a 42 year-old driver, also from the same area, to life imprisonment, was met by many with incredulity.

 “Why are people only punished severely when they are found with cannabis and never when they import heroin?” In substance, this was the question that many callers put to this newspaper.

 The two men were arrested on April 9 last year by the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) with 47kg of cannabis at an isolated farm in the Anse Boileau area. The men, the NDEA said in a press release yesterday, were “the subject of NDEA attention for a considerable time. This attention culminated in an NDEA search and seizure operation that was carried out on 9 April 2014”.

They both pleaded not guilty but the NDEA said they were convicted “on the evidence before the court which included technical and forensic evidence that was recovered from the scene. The life sentence is the first to have been imposed in this country since the repealed section of the act was enacted in 2012”.

The agency also says that the drugs that had been recovered “were contained in a collection of barrels and bags, concealed underground to avoid detection”.

 The consignment is believed to have come from Madagascar and brought over to Seychelles “a short time prior to their discovery and seizure”. The NDEA also believes that “the evidence found at the scene had all the signs of an industrial distribution centre for illegal drugs”.

This is the crux of the matter. According to the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2012, trafficking of drugs in excess of 250 grammes carries a sentence of “up to life sentence”. In other words, while the penalty is severe for those found with a certain quantity of cannabis, sentencing is at the judge’s discretion. Mr Burhan could have sentenced the two men to any number of years in prison but chose to send them to jail for life.

Lawyer Alexia Amesbury says Judge Mohan Burhan, the head of the Criminal Division, “is known for his excessively high sentences”.

Asked whether she thought this particular sentence was excessively high, Mrs Amesbury explained that she believes a message is being sent by the Judge when he opted for life sentence, a first in Seychelles for a drug related offence. What’s more, the lawyer confirmed that in this case, a life sentence means just that - life. “There is no remission for drugs”, she said.

“Is there a message that is being conveyed? Who is this message addressed to?” she also pondered. But the “message” was received by the layman was largely laced with incredulity. All too aware of the ravages drugs are causing to society, the public nonetheless makes the distinction between cannabis and heroin. “If someone can be convicted for life because of cannabis, what is the sentence going to be for trafficking of heroin?” a mother of four asked.

“Presumably, the authorities understand that heroin is more dangerous than cannabis. If this is so, what would be a more severe penalty for those who sell heroin”, a man asked. But over and above the issue of fairness and proportionality, there’s a very practical question that arises: that of an already overpopulated prison having to make space for two more detainees for a very long time. A prison officer told this newspaper that the facility at Montagne Posée is so overcrowded it has become almost unmanageable. “And most of the inmates are in for non violent crimes like possession and trafficking of cannabis”, he said.

 But while the issue of depenalisation of marijuana has been the subject of much debate all over the world - with several states in the US having even legalised cannabis and Australia being on the verge of legalizing medical marijuana - the matter does not seem to have reached our shores yet. Although mere possession of cannabis does not carry a mandatory prison sentence, the severity of the law with regards to cannabis shows there is no set policy on the matter.