The speaker of parliament in Mauritius has spoken out after criticism for shaming an MP with vitiligo, a condition which causes patches of skin to become lighter.
The speaker said it was a “joke”, regarding his remarks against an opposition legislator during a sitting on Tuesday, which caused widespread uproar.
“Look at your face!” Speaker Sooroojdev Phokeer had said 11 times to MP Rajesh Bhagwan. His remarks followed an altercation during which the MP had referred to the speaker as a “drunk” and a “shame”.
Mr Phokeer explained to local media on Wednesday that
“it was a joke as [the MP] was not wearing his face mask, I told him to look at his face”.
“People know me, God knows that I don’t denigrate people. I did not at any time mean to belittle Rajesh Bhagwan,”
The speaker’s remarks sparked condemnation in the country and around the world, with calls for his resignation.
Vitiligo Support UK called the speaker’s behaviour “disgraceful”.
But the speaker said his conscience was “clear” that he was not talking ill about “someone’s health status… I can have an illness too”.