“That day, all I want to do is look at the ADSU officers in the eye and see what they have to say. I would like them to show me the drugs they found on me and justify why they nabbed me, chained me and kept me locked up for 19 days.”
Accused of being a drug dealer, Bhavesh Rungee, commonly known as Yasheel, claims he is innocent and that he was framed. So far, nothing new; most drug dealers keep claiming their innocence while continuing to deal from within the walls of penitentiary facilities. However, a number of factors make the claims Yasheel made on his Facebook page and on Top FM worth investigating with a bit more scrutiny. We intend to do that in this interview where no complacency was allowed. We are not accusing anyone but we are not ruling out any hypothesis. Naturally, Yasheel will get his day in court but justice is becoming slower and slower, resulting in many broken lives in the process. We are therefore putting forward Yasheel’s side of the story in the meantime.
Yasheel’s story became news when, after CCTV footage supporting John Brown’s accusations that an Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU) cop had framed him emerged. Yasheel then decided to go public as the same officer named in Brown’s tape is, according to Yasheel, the one who had one fine morning turned the life of a law-abiding teacher – a civil engineering degree holder – with no prior brushes with the law, into a living nightmare.
I listened to Yasheel’s story of how he was one day – Nine/Eleven – in his car near Ajageer motors, approximately 200 metres away from the St Pierre bus station waiting for a student he had arranged to meet so they can go to buy some materials for their design and technology coursework. They were then meant to go and pick up another student from another place and go together. So far, the picture that emerges is of a helpful young teacher who goes the extra mile to help his pupils at the Mahatma Gandhi Secondary School. We have been there. We know it is plausible.
“They are looking for glory at any price and I happened to be there, with my looks and dressed in joggers.”
The next thing Yasheel knew, he says, is that a CCID officer barged into his car, showed him his badge and asked him to cooperate and step out. Which he obediently did, though he was in complete shock. Another officer came into the car and sat at the wheel while Yasheel was shoved into a police car. Then the convoy drove away to what he later realised was the ADSU of Flacq. There shock, horror, ill-treatment, abuse conspired to start a nightmare Yasheel has not woken up from yet.
He claims he was interrogated in the kitchen where he was presented with a bag of pills. One of the police officers threw it at him and Yasheel instinctively caught it. He claims he had never seen it. He is not a drug user, let alone a drug dealer. He was told the bag contained 50 pills and that these pills had been found on him. Everything would go well, however, if only he could admit to that. When he raised his voice, one of the officers smacked him on the face and he immediately felt his left ear bleeding. It took days and numerous requests for medical treatment before he was eventually taken to the hospital. “Hands and feet chained like a serial killer,” He said. “I will always remember that humiliation,” he added.
During the interrogation, Yasheel kept repeating that he was a teacher. No one believed him. When they later found out he was, he says, they seemed in shock. Yasheel is convinced that they did not like his looks and that that’s why they did not believe him.
During the “kitchen interrogation”, Yasheel claims that he was taken to the toilet where one of the cops took a picture of him while the other was subtly threatening him with a stick. “When you are there, you cannot put up any resistance. It is like a gang. They can make you do anything they want,” he told me.
The next day, the picture taken made headlines in the faits divers press: “Teacher locked up for ecstasy trafficking” titled one newspaper bearing Yasheel’s photo on the first page. The article explains that ‘the teacher’ had admitted he was drug dealing and that he was on his way to deliver the ecstasy pills: “Ban comprime la mo ti pou al livrer sa,” he is quoted as having said to the cops. The value of the pills was estimated at Rs75,000, which led the newspaper to conclude that the police were investigating a drug network at the school, possibly involving pupils.
At this time, Yasheel was being interrogated and asked to admit the pills were his and that nothing much would happen to him. Something he claims he refused to do. And the 50 pills that were supposed to have been found in his possession have shrunk to 30, as reported in the newspaper. Another newspaper echoed the same information, leading to the conclusion that it had come from the same source. The same photo accompanied the article.
“When you are there, you cannot put up any resistance. It is like a gang. They can make you do anything they want.”
Yasheel was taken back home for a search of his house. The cops found nothing incriminating. When they got to the last room, they ‘found’ a packet of cigarettes of the brand Matinée which apparently contained cannabis substances. In court, according to Yasheel, the cops could not give a consistent answer about whether they had found the cigarettes during the house search or at the St Pierre bus station.
I conducted my own enquiry: Yasheel was not a smoker of any brand of cigarettes before the arrest. Many people who know him confirmed to me that he was ‘obsessed’ with sports and particularly body building and was always happy to help his friends exercise. I pushed my luck and asked him for a photo of him at the gym. I nearly cried when I saw it. I attach it for the readers’ appreciation. I could not reconcile the photo of the very muscular man with the skinny guy sitting in front of me. He told me the ordeal had cost him 20 kilos of muscle he had built over the years through blood, sweat and tears. And a new addiction to cigarettes.
In court, the cops stated they had apprehended Yasheel at the St Pierre bus station with 30 pills on him. When he was finally released on bail after 19 full days in custody, he had lost his job – no disciplinary action, no compensation, no nothing – his friends, some of his relatives and was unemployable! He has been without a job since. His father, a once-respected head teacher, started encountering harassment and so did his mother, a senior librarian.
His mother’s car, which Yasheel was driving when he was nabbed by the police, was kept off record. You would have expected the police to confiscate the car, find out who is the owner is and perhaps interrogate then and enter everything in the logbook. None of that was done, according to Yasheel. When his mother came looking for her car, no one seemed to know anything about it. When she finally found it, Yasheel claims some of his mother’s belongings had gone missing. She filed a case at St pierre police station in November and is still waiting to hear from them.
If it is true, it is a very sad story indeed and has huge implications on anyone of us. But we couldn’t take his word for it. I pressed on: “Why would the police target you in particular? You said they didn’t know you, you have no political views or affiliations and you see no reason why anyone would want you locked up?” I asked. Yasheel hesitated. He is firm, confident but still scared of saying too much at this stage. I insisted.
“These are glory seekers,” he finally volunteered. “They are looking for glory at any price and I happened to be there, with my looks and dressed in joggers. I must have seemed as an easy target to them. When they found out I was a teacher and an engineer, they seemed terribly disconcerted,” he added. He took exception to the methods used and insisted that he had been “treated like trash”.
Why did Yasheel decide to talk now after so many months of biting the bullet? He was encouraged by the video that John Brown had streamed and which relates a similar story to his, involving the same ADSU officers. “I also can’t take it anymore. My case was supposed to come up in April but was delayed for another six months due to Covid. For how long more am I going to be wrongly accused and without a job? How am I supposed to feed myself?”
I felt a tinge of pain as I know how long court cases drag on for and how much damage can be caused to lives and livelihoods before being entitled to a court hearing. But I wanted to know why he is so confident he can prove his innocence. “I have nothing to do with drugs. I believe in sports and good health. So what proof are the police going to show?” I pushed a little further then the answer came: “There are eight cameras at the Saint Pierre bus station where the police officers claim they had caught me with drugs. I went back and counted them and, as taxpayers, we are paying for them. Let the court see the footage and decide!”
In fact, Yasheel is so sure of his innocence that he had his lawyer write to the police and ask them to give him the video footage of that fateful day. The assistant superintendent of police, replying on behalf of the police commissioner, wrote back saying that “the request cannot be acceded to” but that “this office would much appreciate if the police could be summoned to come and produce the CCTV footage in court.” “My innocence is in that footage,” Yasheel says. Though he has gone through a lot and is still going through a rough patch, he finds it in him to have some humour: “You know, I am really looking forward to the day the magistrate sees that footage. That day, all I want to do is look at the ADSU officers in the eye and see what they have to say. I would like them to show me the drugs they found on me and justify why they nabbed me, chained me and kept me locked up for 19 days. I don’t expect them to feel guilty about everything my family and I have lost, particularly my job, but I would still like to look and see what I can find in their eyes.”
What will he do once everything is over? Yasheel cannot see that far. The court case has been postponed once and there is no reason to suggest it might not be postponed again. So he has no idea when he will be out of the woods. “I can’t get myself to think that far ahead. If I could, I would leave the country and never look back. But I know I can’t. Also, once I have proven my innocence, I would like to help others who may find themselves in the same situation as me. It could be anyone.”
But there is a long way to go before the courts decide whether he is innocent or not. In the meantime, he has to put up with embarrassment, shame, joblessness, poverty and intimidation. In fact, as soon as he came out in the open about his story on Top FM, the Port ADSU landed at his place for another house search in connection with a parcel dating back to 2018, which contained drugs!
Yasheel laughed bitterly as he was relating this to us: “Since 2018, I must have received dozens of parcels at the parcel post office and they are chasing me now for a parcel that supposedly arrived in 2018! No controlled delivery, no haste, no rush, no nothing. If they wait for three years before calling out drug dealers, we are in very sad times!” he said.
I spent a lot of time talking to Yasheel and asking him questions about everything. Unless I missed something, his story adds up. And it boils down to this: why would he immediately ask for the CCTV footage to be secured if he had anything to hide? And if there was incriminating evidence in the footage, why don’t the ADSU officers just show it to him instead of spending days trying to get him to admit that the pills had been found on him?
I am terribly disturbed by these questions. Part of me would like to believe that none of what Yasheel told me is true. Because if it is, we are indeed living in very sad times, as he said.