9 Aug 2004

Lawyer for Fiji vice-president says client could be freed on bail this week

3:19 pm on 9 August 2004

The lawyer acting for Fiji's jailed vice-president says his client could be freed on bail pending appeal by the end of the week.

Ratu Jope Seniloli is beginning a four year term behind bars for his role in the 2000 coup.

Seniloli's lawyer, Mehboob Raza, says legal teams for all the five convicted last week are due to file appeal papers today.

Mr Raza says if a date's set for an appeal hearing, the judge may consider arguments for freeing Seniloli on bail this week:

"If he agrees with us, then he could be bailed immediately - well, not today, but within this week when the date is given, because whilst the documents are filed, then the copies of it is also given to the DPP's office, and they may wish to file their affidavit in response."

Mehboob Raza says the appeal will be based on arguments that the sentencing judge, Nazhat Shameem, had, in coming to the ruling that she did, committed what Mr Raza described as a "serious error in law".

Meanwhile, police are providing 24-hour security for the High Court judge who sentenced Seniloli.

The police spokesman, Mesake Koroi, says police have not ruled out threats being made against Justice Shameem and will continue to provide security for her.

A 24-hour security network has also been mounted around her residence, with Mr Koroi saying arrangements to scale it down will be determined later.

Fiji's Attorney General says the Prime Minister is entitled to criticise the judiciary over the jail term handed to the vice president.

Qoriniasi Bale defended Laisenia Qarase, who has described the four year jail term given to Seniloli as severe.

Mr Qarase has said Seniloli and four others involved in the 2000 coup had no evil intentions and thought they were doing something for their country.

The Attorney General says Mr Qarase has the right to his opinion on the matter.


You have to respect the views expressed personally by individual politicians, including the Prime Minister. I doubt very much that he was expressing the Government view as such, he was expressing his personal feeling on it. And I think he's entitled to do that.

DUR; 17

He says that while the rule of law must prevail, most MPs are indigenous and can sympathise with the accused.

In another development, the new chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Ovini Bokini, has been quoted in a newspaper report as saying that Seniloli should have adhered to the advice of the former council chairman, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, by stepping down.

Ratu Ovini says had the vice president done that, the emotional gravity of the court's ruling would not have been so great.

But one of the defence lawyers who filed applications for bail and appeal today, Abhay Singh, says neither the vice president not the deputy speaker of parliament, Vakalalabure, has given any indication at all that they will step down.

Mr Singh says they are entitled to hold office until their appeal is heard which is not likely before November.