Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission hearings | 11 September 2019
Bishop Chang-Him provides account about his brother ‘Son’s death
Family members of Davidson Chang-Him, the complainants in the first matter being heard by the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission, yesterday appeared before the commission to provide information pertaining to circumstances around the death of their father and brother, on the tragic afternoon of June 5 1977.
The commission held a closed session yesterday morning at the National House as requested by the children of Mr Chang-Him and resumed with a public hearing during the afternoon in which brother to Davidson Chang-Him, Bishop French Chang-Him provided his account of matters, followed by two other witnesses.
Bishop Chang-Him commenced by remembering his brother, stating that he was a good father who had sustained his mother and family and carried on the family business after the death of their father.
Recalling the morning of June 5, Bishop French noted that he usually held two services on Sunday mornings but on that particular day, he had received a phone call prior to leaving for the 7am service at Anse Des Genets warning him that there was a curfew in place and that there had been a coup. Upon deciding that it was unwise to proceed to the service, he went outside the rectory where he was confronted by a strong smell of petrol causing him to believe, there may have been a deliberate attempt to set the Church of Holy Saviours or the rectory in which he stayed on fire.
He continued on to state that the experience has led to him wondering and questioning for many years if their family was targeted and why.
Elaborating into the events of the afternoon of June 5 1977, Bishop French made reference to a telephone call which he received at around 4 o’clock where he was informed by an emotional Dr Ian McGregor of Victoria Hospital that his brother, Davidson, had been shot. He then drove to the hospital where he was directed to the mortuary, where he was shown his brother’s body by Eugene Belle who at the time was in charge of the mortuary.
“Looking back, I believe he was lying on the stone floor, fully clothed, with a piece of, a flat piece of wood to support his head. But what really, really struck me, is when he showed me the wounds of my brother, he was lying face upwards and right in the middle of his stomach was a very large gaping wound, it could have been about 2 inches perhaps or more. And, Mr Belle also showed me the back of my brothers body and turned him over and said ‘see where the bullet came in’ and obviously what comes to your mind immediately is that he was shot from the back,” Bishop Chang-Him said.
As the first person to see his brother’s body, Bishop French is confident that he was shot in the back. According to what he was told, by many who allegedly witnessed the incident, his brother was driven to hospital in a Land Rover and not an ambulance.
Mr Belle also returned to him Davidson’s possessions found on his body including his wallet containing a few rupees and an old fashioned Rolex watch.
Recounting the ensuing events, Bishop French mentioned that he went to Bishop’s House at Bel Eau where he met with Bishop Georges Briggs to make the funeral arrangements for his brother. From Bishop’s House, he called the Central Police Station and asked to speak to late former President France Albert Rene who was at the police station.
According to Bishop Chang-Him, President Rene, unaware that he had seen his brother’s body, said he was sorry about his brother’s death and that “Davidson was resisting arrest and was shot by accident”.
Davidson’s funeral service was held at St Luke’s Church in Bel Ombre at 10am on Monday June 6, 1977.
“It wasn’t a normal funeral, it was done hastily. Prayers outside church and then went straight up to cemetery. I estimate there could have been about 40 people, the funeral was conducted by Bishop Georges Briggs,” he said.
Bishop Chang-Him also presented the commission with a copy of the church burial service register, parish of St Paul’s Cathedral, Diocese of Seychelles, Certificate 192, buried June 6, 1977, age 44.
Expressing the impact the loss has had on the family, Bishop French noted that one of his nieces, who had given evidence in the morning session had recurring nightmares and that the family struggled financially due to the unavailability of social welfare and benefits at the time.
He also thanked the commission for allowing his nephews and nieces a closed session as “it’s still raw for them.”
Asked about his interactions with former President Rene, Bishop French said on his last official visit to State House he said to President Rene that he has forgiven Seychelles for the death of his brother and President Rene uttered “yes, yes”.
“I met with, they asked to see me, President Michel and President Faure, they have sincerely and profoundly expressed their regrets over Davidson’s death and said they really felt sorry,” he said.
Bishop French also sent an appeal to anyone with information regarding matters before the commission to come forth and provide evidence.
He went on to state that he believes Davidson, affectionately known to many as ‘Son’, had been killed on account that he was an activist, passionate about politics and that he personally feels as though “he gave his life for Sir James Mancham”.
He laid out that there may have been a possibility that those responsible for his shooting felt that he was capable of organising a counter-coup.
“Let’s imagine ourselves a few years ago, it would have been easy to call up a few people and tell them to reverse this coup. I believe they believed he was a person who could lead a counter-coup and maybe they would keep him detained,” said Bishop Chang-Him.
“He knew he was going to die that day. The reason being is he went to town, he got a lift and went to visit my mother at Benezet Street and he told his children ‘you won’t have a dad today’ and if he hadn’t died that day, he may have disappeared like so many people have. It was brutal and painful,” Bishop Chang-Him stated.
Bishop Chang-Him concluded his session by addressing some of his personal queries with the commission.
He questioned whether the commission had obtained the occurrence book kept by the Central Police Station, in which a report on the incident may be included for June 5,1977. He was informed that the commission is still following up on the issue as the police have failed to make the book available thus far due to fungus or not knowing where some of the documents are located.
Bishop French also asked of patient records kept at the Ministry of Health as to what was recorded when his brother was taken to hospital and the mortuary, to which he was informed that the commission had not done so thus far, but would follow up on it. Original documents held by the family state ‘Death by bullet wound’ but Bishop Chang-Him stated that the family wants more information.
Solano Savy said he picked ‘Son’ Chang-Him up after he was shot
The second witness to take to the stand yesterday was Solano Savy, a policeman at the time of the coup of 1977, who was also the policeman who picked up his body after he was shot to transport him to hospital. Mr Savy, after having heard the appeals for information during the first session of the commission, voluntarily came forth to provide information.
Recalling the circumstances around the coup, Mr Savy noted that the first inkling he got was when as a police sergeant, he was instructed to go and search for Gilbert Morgan who had disappeared, with a platoon led by sergeant Vital Arrisol.
Following a couple of days of searching for Morgan to no avail, the platoon was informed of strange activities on Ile Recife. Upon reaching the island, then sergeant Savy was instructed along with two others to swim to the island where they discovered “stands where you practice shooting, saw empty bullet shells and dead rabbits and birds but when we collected the evidence and brought it to the station what they didn’t know was that within the scientific bureau, some were planning the counter-coup while others were with the system.”
On June 4,1977, Mr Savy recalls that his platoon worked the evening shifts between 4pm to 10 pm. Sergeant Percy Dingwall, the brother in law of James Michel, was a driver in his platoon but it was strange he was absent on that said day for the shift. Therefore, he was placed alongside a fellow officer identified as Uranie at Radyo Sesel SBC, but even stranger, as per his account, is the fact that sergeant Dingwall was present to pick them up after the shift.
Recalling June 5, Mr Savy remembered being notified by fellow officers and warned that he should return home upon arriving for his evening shift on account that some officers had been assaulted and beaten.
“Around 9.30am I took my car and town was deserted. I thought to go to Olian Cinema and it was closed and I carried on until opposite where there was the traffic department on the left hand side on the way towards Revolution Avenue, and just as I was going I heard “Shoot Him CID” and I hit the brakes,” added Mr Savy.
“All I could see on the traffic side was the nozzle of the gun at Benezet Street, in front of me I saw about six or seven people with guns and pointed at me. I realised that one of the guys in Benezet Street who spoke was supposed to be in prison. He also had a gun, I had personally arrested him several times. He lived around Hangard Street and he was also with a gun, and he had said to shoot me but God did not want it,” he said.
Mr Savy noted that ‘Jamaican’, a character mentioned by other witnesses, instructed him not to resist but to return to the Central Police Station to which he agreed. One of the armed men suggested escorted him but they let him return alone.
Mr Savy continued to explain the events in the Central Police Station upon his return upon which he was greeted by Mr Isnard who informed him of the coup and where his colleagues also informed him of the shooting of fellow officer Berard Jeanie.
He recalled accounts of fellow officers who told him how Jeanie, who had swapped shifts with another officer had been shot by unnamed men to whom Percy Dingwall said ‘if you miss him, he won’t miss you’ about.
“According to their account, he was shot, as soon as Dingwall persuaded the other officer to go outside to get mangoes. As soon as they heard the shot and he informed Dingwall who downplayed the sound of a gunshot. Someone shot Jeanie through the louvers,” he said.
Recalling that he went back to work that afternoon at 4pm, he said he was in the mess conversing with fellow officers and he heard a gunshot at around 4.45pm from around the gate.
“Then I saw the Deputy Commissioner Max Fontaine white faced who instructed for two big men to come and pick up a man who had been wounded. I called for others to follow but they didn’t, I called out a few times but then Andre, I think his name is Mondon, and Clement Bradburn, a mechanic with the police followed me with Mr Fontaine behind us,” said Mr Savy.
“I got there and saw ‘Son’ Chang-Him on the floor, his head facing the street, facing upwards, his front quite open, and in my experience, if with a powerful gun like that if he was shot from the back, the entry wound will be small, but exit wound is bigger and that’s what it looked like. I saw him breathing with his left leg a little tucked under him and Dr Ferrari came, looked at Phillip D’Offay through the gate, (gestures that he shook his head) and left,” Mr Savy continued.
Savy picked ‘Son’ up with the help of the two other officers. According to him, at that instance President Rene came down and said something incomprehensive. D’Offay had a powerful gun in his hands and President Rene took the gun from him and left with it. By which time, Mr Bradburn had reversed a vehicle and laid Son in the back seat. Mr Savy stated that he did not accompany them on the trip to the hospital.
According to Mr Savy, the bullet had hit a parked brown van belonging to the police as well as Dr Ferrari’s car, which was parked behind the van.
Mr Savy also spoke of other events around the coup including the Hassan Ally disappearance, a matter on which he said he had information and evidence which he is willing to state publicly when the commission is ready to call him. He also noted that he has a personal case as he was made redundant from the police force without compensation and that his land has been taken.
Mr Savy’s account seems to be consistent with that of Bishop Chang-Him as to Son having been shot in the back. Mr Savy is adamant that the shooting occurred at 4.45pm.
He also revealed that the defence forces had self-loading rifles and AK-47s at the time as well as other weapons.
Mr Savy urged others to come forward with information.
ASP chief executive Simeon gives details of Liberation Memorial Fund
The third witness in the matter had not witnessed the incident but was rather addressing the commission’s queries as to why the family had not benefitted from the Liberation Memorial Fund Decree, under Law Decree 24 of 1977, to provide for maintenance, education, benefit or advancement of those persons who were wholly or substantially maintained by the three persons who died on Liberation Day on June 5 1977 including housing assistance.
Agency for Social Protection (ASP) chief executive Marcus Simeon was asked about how the fund works and explained that the fund had their own board who took decisions. He noted that based on the information he has, he cannot confirm that any payments have been effected to the Chang-Him family although he noted that there have been many payments made since the establishment of the fund in 1977 that are possibly not on file. He noted that he only started the post in 2008. The information he had on file dates back to 1999.
The fund invested money in bonds and other financial instruments and then issued payments to family members from the interest.
According to Mr Simeon, the secretary of the board was Francis Chang-Leng and the board decided who was eligible to benefit from the payments.
In terms of sums of money in the fund, Mr Simeon noted “at the peak, about R10 million, R12 million in there” because not many individuals were benefitting from the fund and monthly payments were quite low.
Mr Simeon provided the commission with a list of the beneficiaries with the relevant details and informed the commission that the fund is still existent today. Mr Simeon proposed that the commission approach the only known member of the then board, allegedly, secretary Chang-Leng.
According to the records, prior to 2011, the fund was being administered by the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF) although payments were effected through ASP.
It would appear from letters that the SPDF would recommend injured officials and relatives to benefit from the fund.
Chairman of the commission, Gabrielle Louise McIntyre enquired about older files and for more information pertaining to officials at the agency and involved with the fund.
She also launched an appeal to members of the board who administered the fund to contact the commission and to come forth and shed light on the matter.
The commission will resume with its session at 9am today.
The first two witnesses to testify in the case – Dr Maxime Ferrari and Georges Lefevre – were the first to appear before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission on Monday. The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission will hear both witnesses and suspects in a first series of hearings which would go on until September 17.