18 Nov 2015

Fijian photographer dies after post-coup assault by military

From , 5:04 am on 18 November 2015
Veteran Fijian news photographer Sitiveni Moce who was bedridden after injuries sustained in an assault after the 2006 coup.

Veteran Fijian news photographer Sitiveni Moce Photo: Ricardo Morris

A Fijian photographer who was left bedridden after being assaulted by soldiers in 2007 has died and is being farewelled on Wednesday at a funeral in Fiji.

Sitiveni Moce's death comes amid controversy in the country over efforts to bring a military officer to account for alleged torture.

Sally Round from RNZ International joins Jamie Tahana.

JAMIE TAHANA: What happened to Mr Moce?

SALLY ROUND: Witnesses said in 2007, not long after the 2006 coup, Mr Moce was on an assignment for the Fiji Times outside the Methodist Church in Suva, when he was confronted as he tried to take pictures of soldiers escorting a member of the church from the premises. A soldier tried to take the roll of film from Mr Moce's camera, while another soldier tried to snatch his camera bag. He was then apparently manhandled, dragged to the military truck and taken to the military camp in the capital where he was questioned and detained for an hour. Now he never fully recovered from his injuries and was lately left paralysed and bedridden. His supporters say he was not compensated nor did he ever receive an apology from his attackers, and money had to be raised to help support him and his family. It wasn't the first attack, seven years earlier at the height of George Speight's attempted coup and hostage crisis, he was beaten and kicked by rebel supporters as he was going into the rebel-held parliamentary complex for a news conference.

JT: Was anyone held to account for this?

SR: No. The Fiji Times decried the attack on its photographer and media freedom at the time, but was unable to even get a comment on the incident from the military. The International Federation of Journalists called for a full investigation, and the incident was apparently reported to the police but I understand not much hope was held out for any investigation. Now in parliament yesterday in Suva, the Opposition said it would continue to fight for people like Mr Moce and to ensure the defence force was held accountable. The biggest barrier to this though, is the blanket immunity given to coup perpetrators which is enshrined in Fiji's constitution.

There has also been further fallout from the attempt to bring a military officer to account in a more recent case involving the so-called beatings video of three years ago. A high-profile Suva lawyer has resigned from the body which was set up to make key appointments in Fiji - the Constitutional Offices Commission. It's responsible for appointing the main state roles like military commander, Auditor General, Corrections chief and so on. Richard Naidu was the opposition's appointment on this body, but this week he stepped down after a military colonel was appointed acting police chief. You may remember the police commissioner, Ben Groenewald, resigned last week over military interference, just as several important court cases were underway involving the military. Mr Naidu said he's resigning because the Commission's just a rubber stamp, the PM Frank Bainimarama does things willy nilly, and he doesn't want anything to do with it. This of course has been denied by the government which says the PM, who has the chair, had been delegated the authority to make acting appointments.