His Excellency Albert René
Republic of Seychelles
Vienna, 12 February 2001
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors and media executives, is strongly concerned about exorbitant damages being claimed by your Excellency in two civil lawsuits against the independent newspaper, Regar, and one against the newsletter of the oppositional Seychelles National Party, Vizyon.
According to our sources, both suits against Regar were with regard to comments in the satirical column, “Thoughts of Leo the Turtle”. The first, published on 3 March, 2000, is with regard to a visit by the former President of Zambia, in which there were references made to the materials being used for the building of a villa, which Your Excellency claims have portrayed you as unpatriotic. The second suit is in regard to a 19 May, 2000 column, which makes comments on children having to bring money for a school party for Children’s Day, and allegedly can be understood to mean that you had misappropriated money from the Children’s Fund. The Vizyon article was also about possible recklessness in the use of the Children’s Fund money.
In total, the damages claimed by Your Excellency in these three lawsuits amount to R3 million (approx. US$ 1,5 million).
IPI regards the use of high damages in defamation suits as a hazard to the independence and freedom of the media. In the belief of the IPI, such severe damage awards are unjustified and disproportionate to the supposed offences. We therefore urge Your Excellency to ensure that the damages claimed in the lawsuits against Regar and Vizyon are lowered considerably as soon as possible. We further urge you to ensure that the journalists in the Seychelles are allowed to carry out their profession without harassment.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz