Saturday, March 01, 2008

Fiji A Police State

Elective prosecution is no justice

Monday, March 03, 2008

The recent statement by the Commissioner of Police Esala Teleni that those who make statements considered inciting would be subject to Police investigations is a matter of serious concern to many people in Fiji.

Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party national director Peceli Kinivuwai said the statement was only another attempt to suppress Fiji's freedom of expression.

"It is also an attempt by the interim Government to stifle the expression of views that are opposed or not favorable to it even though the views are based on facts which the people are entitled to know," he said.

Mr Kinivuwai said the statement by Mr Teleni was a double edged sword and if implemented would hurt the regime more than the rest of the country.

He said statements made by the interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama since 5/12/06 contained information that was inciting.

"Bainimarama condemned, mocked and insulted Fijian institutions, chiefs, and church leaders accusing people of things they did not do.

"Mr Bainimarama's statement has been inflammatory, inciting, insulting and derogatory.

"Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, Military spokesman Mohammed Aziz and Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry have all spoken out concerning matters of Fijian land and inflamed Fijian feelings leading to further divide between the races," said Mr Kinivuwai.

He urged Teleni to apply the law equally to all.

"Elective prosecution is no justice," said Mr Kinivuwai.

State plans ‘hack’ law
Last updated 3/1/2008
The recent exposure of private conversations and exchanges through the electronic mail system has become a cause for concern for the State.
And the Interim Government says there are plans to introduce statutory provisions which will protect and enhance the rights to privacy.
Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said government had a statutory programme which was being considered in this regard. He said priority would be given to areas which had a direct impact on the general population.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said this would in turn ensure more of an impact on the improvement of the lives of the general public and not specifically on one organisation.
Hacked e-mails, which exposed correspondence between Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter and correspondent Victor Lal, are believed to be behind the deportation of the former on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mr Lal, whose tax stories relating to interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and disclosure of the Labour leader’s $2million secret Australian bank account led to the deportation of Mr Hunter, said there was nothing in the February 2 e-mails which constituted a threat to national security.He said that there was also nothing in the e-mails that threatened Fiji’s peace and security except that “one of the first one was giving a FIRCA board member sleepless nights over his tax records”. He said there was a discussion between Mr Lal and Mr Hunter, a normal practice in the world of investigate journalism, on how best to put out the story regarding a FIRCA board member whom Mr Lal had found to have falsely claimed refund on his rental property, and had gone around threatening staff for “snooping” into Mr Chaudhry’s tax records.
He said both were completely taken aback when the board member phoned to claim that someone read on a blog site that Fiji Sun was going to run the story on the board member. “We did a quick search on the blog site and found nothing. We tried to figure out who might have leaked the information to him, and agreed that we were going to delete all materials relating to the story. We also decided to switch e-mail accounts fearing that we had been hacked,” Mr Lal said. He said he also conveyed information to Mr Hunter regarding an FLP MP who had allegedly got some money from a company during the last general election. “We had been working on another story which was inter-related so the information on the MP was very relevant and things were falling into place,” Mr Lal said. Mr Lal said in the same e-mail he promised Mr Hunter that he was going to rush through a piece he was working on Justice Coventry which was recently published as “Justice Coventry denigrates Fiji judges”. He said Mr Hunter also shared some private details on the board member with him, on another FIRCA staff, and a few random passing thoughts and comments on a few politicians. Mr Lal said Mr Hunter also queried some figures before the story came out on “FIRCA board member in tax scam”.
He said he also conveyed to Mr Hunter some queries from a judge on some matters and promised to write a piece on Justice Ellicott’s role in the 1975 constitutional crisis in Australia and was going to query whether the learned judge should, based on his past, be allowed to chair the Fatiaki tribunal. “I never came around to doing the piece,” Mr Lal said.
He said he also told Mr Hunter of a few more stories he was going to do but they main project remained fixed on the tax evasion case and the Haryana fund and they did not want to be distracted from their objective. “Of course, like in any e-mails there were a few comments here and there but we were not planning a revolution, assassination, kidnapping or anything of that sort against the members of the Interim Government and their supporters, “ said Mr Lal.
He said he also exchanged some thoughts on the judiciary in those e-mails. “Like any newspaper publisher and an investigative contributor, we were playing a guessing game on how the judiciary might react if Mr Chaudhry asked for an injunction. What is wrong with that? We were not planning to arrive at their houses in plain clothes, asking them of their passports, de-robing them and putting them on the next flight home. We were in search of truth about the tax story and the $2million dollars and nothing else. Incidentally, in none of these e-mails we even discussed the two stories although I had first raised the issue in August last year,” said Mr Lal.
He said he was pursuing a serious of stories and therefore he had every right to be very frank with Mr Hunter, adding that “those who are not privy to all the e-mails between Russell Hunter and me for over a year should not give their own interpretations to the contents of the e-mails”.
Mr Lal said if the contents of these e-mails constituted a threat to peace, security, and safety of the nation, warranting Mr Hunter’s deportation, than “God help Fiji”.

Singh taunts Lal over emails
Last updated 3/1/2008 9:28:22 AM

Fiji Sun contributor Victor Lal has been asked how it felt now, and whether he was ashamed of his actions in making public Mahendra Chaudhry's $2million bank account overseas.
He said former Fiji television journalist Nikhil Singh , who now works for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Trade Union in Sydney, Australia, and a well-known supporter of Mr Chauhdry asked him the question after releasing a batch of e-mails to the media, all dated February 2, 2007.
Mr Singh had sent the e-mails shortly after Mr Russell Hunter's plane took off from Nadi airport for Sydney on Tuesday morning.
Mr Singh, using his trade union's e-mail account, which has a membership of 36,000, and whose general secretary Christopher Warren is the past president of the International Federation of Journalists, also promised to send more if the media was interested in them, asking them to drop him an email to "The Alliance" address he gave them.
The Fiji Sun received the February 2 e-mails which Mr Singh had sent to the newspaper and three others media outlets.
When Mr Lal, after being alerted by the media of Mr Singh's actions, contacted Mr Singh in Australia, Mr Singh asked him if he (Mr Lal) was ashamed of releasing details of Mr Chaudhry's $2million bank account in Australia.
He also asked whether Mr Lal, now that the "rogue publisher" Mr Hunter had been deported, would make a deal with Fiji Times editor Netani Rika.
Mr Singh could not be reached for a comment last night but said earlier this week he made public the emails sent to him "in the public interest".
The subject heading of Mr Singh's e-mails was: Want to expose the truth?
It went on to read: "Russell and his mate Victor Lal had a "strategy". All about media freedom? If you need more evidence drop me an email."
Mr Lal, who said he had never communicated with Mr Sigh before, replied: "There is nothing be ashamed of in search of the $2million - after all, what about other e-mails from those in the Interim Regime to me - if one were afraid of being intercepted by the likes of you, nobody will be using the e-mails - and no stories will ever be published. The e-mails make no difference to the truth about the $2million in an Aussie bank account, and other stories, nor the deportation of Russell Hunter will alter the truth."
Mr Lal asked Mr Singh whether he was the "hacker" of the e-mails and put to Mr Singh: "Are you trying to blackmail me or what?"
While denying that he was the hacker, Mr Singh said Mr Lal should blame himself and that he (Mr Lal), was barking up the wrong tree.
Mr Singh told Mr Lal to go and find out who forwarded the e-mails to him and others in Australia, claiming that the media got them last week.
Mr Singh, however, refused to disclose on whose behalf or instruction was he acting when he immediately dispatched a batch of five e-mails all from 2 February 2007.
Mr Lal said he held nothing against Mr Singh because he did not even know him but had been very curious as to why and when he got the e-mails and why he waited until Mr Hunter left Fiji.

Fiji closer to police state: Beddoes

Friday, February 29, 2008

Fiji is moving closer to being a Police State, Ousted Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes said.

Mr Beddoes was reacting to Cabinet's decision to reactivate the Fiji Intelligence Service.

He said it was especially telling that Mr Chaudhry who stopped the FIS as Prime Minister ion 2000, should now support the activation of such an unnecessary machinery, that will among other things invade peoples privacy and start intruding on the innocent people in the name of intelligence gathering.

Beddoes said the Interim Administration had failed to arrest and turn the declining economy around, and does not have funds to do the most basic things needed to maintain services in the heath, housing, poverty alleviation, water supply and road maintenance, yet it wants to set up a spy network to use against its own people.

"Since December 6th 2006, the military has militarized the Police and key Government departments including overseas missions so their intelligence gathering should be adequate enough, not to warrant such as decision," Mr Beddoes said.

"We cant afford it, and the people feel oppressed enough by the Regime that there is no need to intensify this any further."

FIS a waste, says Lesavua

Friday, February 29, 2008

A FORMER parliamentarian in the Labour Party-led People's Coalition Government says having a separate intelligence unit will duplicate the work of the police Special Branch.

Ponipate Lesavua was commenting on the announcement by the interim Government this week that the Fiji Intelligence Service and the National Security Council will be revived.

Mr Lesavua was a parliamentarian when the Fiji Intelligence Service was disbanded by the Mahendra Chaudhry-led government in 1999.

He said having an intelligence unit alongside the Special Branch in the police force was a duplication of the job done by the police intelligence unit.

"And it is also costly," he said.

He said the FIS was disbanded in 1999 mainly because the then government felt that the police provided the best intelligence, and did their job well.

"They are qualified, they know what to do," said the former police officer.

"The members of the special branch are the right people, they are taught to collect information and analyse it."

Mr Lesavua said from experience, the police intelligence unit would analyse the raw information before passing on information to high office.

"The FIS then was doing exactly what the SB was doing," he said. "And most of the time their information contradicted."

He said at that time, the Chaudhry government felt it was a waste of money and resources to have both units in operation.

"But they (interim government) are in control now, so they can do whatever they like."

Singh: Public will feel burden

Friday, February 29, 2008

A former Fiji Labour Party parliamentarian says the revival of the Fiji Intelligence Service will only benefit the members of the interim Government instead of the entire country.

Sacked FLP member Vijay Singh of Vuda said it would be a burden on the tax payers.

"They are doing it for their own agenda," Mr Singh said.

"If they are going to revive it, the taxpayers will feel it."

"We are a small nation and there is no resource in this country that will interest anyone."

The FIS was disbanded by the People's Coalition Government in 1999 when interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was Prime Minister.

Mr Chaudhry could not be reached for a comment despite several calls made to his mobile phone.

Military involved in Hunter case
Last updated 2/29/2008 7:43:57 AM

Soldiers attached to the Immigration Department may have been responsible for removing Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter from his home and escorting him to Nadi.
Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho yesterday said there were soldiers who joined the Immigration Department when Commander Viliame Naupoto took over that office.
“I will not deny that there are military officials with the Immigration Department. They had gone there to improve the services at the department,” Lt-Col Qiliho said.
Interim Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khiayum said soldiers had a life apart from the military.
“Soldiers who are reserves in the military do other work as well and if your sources are saying that they were military officers, I am asking whether they were in uniform,’’ he said.
“ I know people who are lawyers while they are reserves at the military but if they were not in uniform, they cannot be identified as military officials.”
It is understood that only police officers and immigration officials are involved in the escorting of people to be deported.
Immigration director Mr Naupoto refused to comment on the matter, saying he had said everything he had to say regarding Mr Hunter.
When questioned if soldiers attached with the department received dual paychecks - one from military and one from the Immigration Department - Mr Naupoto hung up the phone.
Lt-Col Qiliho said he was yet to ascertain whether a senior officer identified only as Captain Rabuka was one of the soldiers attached with the Immigration Department.
“I have more than 3000 soldiers here and I will have to get back to you about Mr Rabuka,” Lt-Col Qiliho said.

Court officer moved out
Last updated 2/29/2008 7:43:35 AM

The officer-in-charge of the civil court registry has been transferred following the controversy surrounding the issuance of a court order to stop the deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter.
Elenoa Ratuva, who signed the court order issued by Justice Jiten Singh against Mr Hunter’s deportation, was part of a reshuffle of senior officers in the judicial department which came into effect yesterday.
It is understood she was transferred after she queried the delay in arrival of the faxed court order to immigration officials in Nadi.
When contacted yesterday Ms Ratuva refused to comment on the transfer.
Acting chief registrar Emosi Koroi also refused to comment and directed his personal assistant to tell the Fiji Sun: “It’s none of your business.”
No comments could be obtained either from the permanent secretary Malakai Tadulala whose personal assistant said was attending a meeting and would not be able to make any comments for the rest of the day.
No questions could be put to Immigration director Viliame Naupoto who, upon answering his phone, immediately said: “If it has to do with Mr Hunter’s case I’m not saying anymore. Sorry,” before hanging up.
Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum who is named as the second defendant in the court order, said as of 2pm yesterday, he had not received or been served with any court order.
Asked whether the receipt of the court on the defendant’s would have any effect on the decision to deport Mr Hunter, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum replied: “We need to see the court order, which first needs to be served on the parties named in the order, to adhere to what’s in the order.”
When the Fiji Sun contacted Ms Ratuva on Tuesday to enquire about the time she had faxed the court order to immigration officials in Nadi, she referred all queries to Mr Koroi who said it was procedure that they maintain their silence and not make any comments to the media.
He only confirmed signing the order before 9am. A memorandum circulated to senior staff of Judicial Department yesterday which was obtained by the Fiji Sun yesterday quoted Mr Koroi as saying the reshuffle was necessary because of changing circumstances.
“This is to advice that due to the many changing circumstances happening around is for which we must adapt ourselves, I will need to reshuffle supervising staff to meet the needs,” said Mr Koroi.
Ms Ratuva has been reshuffled to the position of acting administration principal officer.
Earlier Immigration director Mr Naupoto said even if a court order against the deportation of Mr Hunter had been issued and received by his officials in Nadi, they (his officials) still would not have been able to stop the deportation.
This despite the court order clearly naming Mr Naupoto as first defendant and his servants, officers and/or agents or whosoever from deporting Mr Hunter.
Interim Minister for Immigration Ratu Epeli Ganilau could not be contacted for comments. His mobile phone was diverted.

Media a victim of State tyranny: Rabuka
Last updated 2/29/2008

The deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Rusell Hunter borders on media victimisation, said former Prime Minister Sitveni Rabuka.
“If Mr Hunter has been deported for a ‘media related’ matter, then we could say that it boarders on media victimisation because, as far as we know, there has been no due process of investigation and judgement etc,’’ he said.
“If it is an immigration condition’s breach, then the Minister for Immigration should know.”
“The process of investigation was totally cut off by the people who were sent to take Mr Hunter from his residence to the Nadi International Airport.”
“A High Court Order was obtained by the company but it was too late to stop the deportation.”
Mr Rabuka said this decision by the Interim Government would only have a negative impact on Fiji’s image internationally.
He said if the deportation was in relation to the recent tax evasion stories published by Fiji Sun on interim Minister for Finance Mahendra Chaudhry, then the country needed a transparent explanation.
Mr Rabuka said: “Due process of the law to take place before any punitive actions are carried out on individuals or media organisations.”
He said the deportation was also a breach of the commitments the government had made to the European Union in Brussels last year.
He said the government was losing its credibility. He said its actions were not supporting good governance and transparency which it championed.
He said no one could have objected if government had followed the democratic way.
The Interim Minister for Immigration Ratu Epeli Ganilau said Mr Hunter’s removal was based on Section 13(2) (g) of the Immigration Act, 2003, relating to Prohibited Immigrants. He said it was done according to law, in a human manner and was not a special case of deportation.
“This is not a special case for the removal of Mr Russell. There have been people who have been removed from Fiji in the same way as Mr Russell,” Ratu Epeli said.

Beddoes defends Qarase
28 FEB
Fiji’s former Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes said he is surprised at the charges made against ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase by the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption.

In a statement today, Beddoes said it was related to a time 17 years ago and not during his 6 year-term as Prime Minister.

Beddoes said Qarase was accused of corruption as Prime Minister of the SDL government, which was in power, first as the interim Government in 2000 and then as elected government from 2001 to 2006.

“So where are the charges of corruption for the period of his Prime Minister-ship, from 2000 to 2006, which was a key justification for the overthrow in 2006?”

Beddoes said he thought there was a 5 or 7 year statute of limitation and wonders how it is possible to charge someone for something that occurred 17 years ago.

“While I do not condone any abuse of office or use of positions of privilege to break the law, Qarase will have to defend himself in this matter, however the fact remains, that these charges do not relate to his term as Prime Minister from 2000 to 2006 so the question that needs to be asked is where is the evidence that the military was relying on in 2006 to support their claim that Qarase and his government was corrupt and needed to be removed?”

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