Intriguing story of sedition in Fiji
Three more people have appeared in court in Fiji charged with sedition, bringing the tally on sedition charges to 65.
Three more people have appeared in court in Fiji charged with sedition.
They are among dozens who've been rounded up over the last six weeks on sedition charges.
The story so far has proved thick on intrigue but thin on evidence and has left many in Fiji baffled.
Sally Round spoke with Mary Wilson.
MARY WILSON: Sally how many people have been charged so far and what with?
SALLY ROUND: It's been hard to keep count as every day groups are appearing in courts in the north and west of the main island of Viti Levu. But I've done a count up and so far 65 people, nearly all of them men have appeared in court, some of them hold chiefly titles and they come from rural areas, from Cuvu in the west up to RakiRaki in the north, some are appearing in pairs, others in groups of sixteen or so. They have all been charged with sedition and either urging political violence or inciting communal antagonism which are all offences under Fiji's Crimes Decree. All of them have been remanded in custody after the state prosecutors stressed the seriousness of the charges and ongoing police investigations.
MW: What's the evidence against them?
SR: Very few, if any, facts have come out in court so far and the lawyer representing many of these people has told me the whole thing is farcical. He says many of these people don't know what they've been charged with, and some have been kept in custody beyond the time legally allowed before a court appearance and he is very upset at the lack of due process for some of these people. One group from Ra province has been in court in relation to reports of attempts to form a breakaway Christian state and paramilitary training with an ex British army officer in the hill country there. And yesterday in court prosecutors said one group of sixteen accused from the Nadroga area in the west had gone so far as to draw up documents establishing a breakaway state in November last year.
MW: What are the police saying?
SR: We spoke to Fiji's Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald and he has confirmed to us a group of men has been conducting military-style training in the hills of Ra province and he described them as members of a rural cult. He told us there are kingpins and they had already been arrested. There have been unconfirmed reports of weapons being used in the training and being imported into Fiji but the police chief told us the training involved wooden replicas rather than the real thing. But the authorities say there is no evidence to suggest the people up in court recently have anything to do with the alleged para-military training in Ra.
MW: What about the people on the ground in Fiji, what do they think of all this?
SR: Our correspondent in Fiji says people there are just watching and waiting with interest to see how it all unfolds but there is a lot of confusion and concern that mixed messages appear to be coming from the authorities. The political parties appear to be distancing themselves from the arrests. Although sources within the indigenous-backed Sodelpa party say the actions of these alleged breakaway groups show how many indigenous Fijians fear their land rights, their culture and their Christian faith are under threat by the Bainimarama government. Interestingly there has been a change in military command at the same time as all this with Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga stepping down. Our contacts in Fiji do not believe there is any connection to the sedition accusations. The prime minister Frank Bainimarama last week weighed in to the whole affair with a strong speech saying anyone challenging the state's authority will face the full force of the law and any insurrection, as he put it, will be crushed.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: