January 30, 2007

The statement that got Laisa Digitaki in trouble with the army again

Business woman and pro-democracy protester Laisa Digitaki is reportedly under the protection of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) because the military is hunting her down for the second time.

She and four other pro-democracy protesters were rounded up late on Christmas Eve and interrogated at Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua outside Suva over their protests.

Below is the statement Digitaki gave to her lawyers regarding that arbitrary detention and assault. The statement has also been making the rounds on the email networks. The military got wind of it and began looking to arrest her again.

But she went into hiding and told the Fiji Times last week she had been granted UN protection. Intelligentsiya is awaiting a reply from the OHCHR to confirm Digitaki's claim of protection on humanitarian grounds.

This is a sligtly-edited statement. Additions are in [square brackets]:



BY THE RFMF ON DECEMBER 24th‑25th, 2006

On Christmas Eve night of 24th December, 2006, a group of soldiers came to our home at 12 Kavika Place, Muanikau, Suva at around 11.20pm in a rental car registration number LR627.

Members of the family who were at the property at that time were myself, Laisa Digitaki, my partner, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, our son, Mosese Qionibaravi (I9), and three daughters, Susana Qionibaravi (I7), Fiona Weleilakeba (I3) and Natasha Weleilakeba (8). A security guard was also on duty.

According to the guard, Marau Vakaloloma, of Matrix Security Company, the soldiers advised him through the closed electronic gate that they were there to take me to the camp. The guard told them to wait outside the gate so he could advise us. He rang the door bell which was answered and opened by our son Mosese.

My partner Sitiveni, who was asleep with me heard the door chime and also went downstairs to the front door to check.

He said the guard told him of the soldiers’ presence and he told our son to go back to his room and that he would talk to the soldiers.

He walked over to the closed electronic gate and was informed by the soldiers that the order from their superior was to take me to the camp for interrogation.

My partner then came back into the house, to our bedroom, and woke me up saying that a group of soldiers was outside waiting to take me away.

I went downstairs in my sleeping gown and asked them why they wanted to take me at that ungodly hour. One of them said that I needed to be taken to the camp immediately.

I told them that I needed to speak to my lawyers at Munro Leys as I wanted to be escorted by them too.

The guy mentioned that I need not speak to my lawyers as it would only complicate matters and that they needed to take me peacefully and that I should not fear as they claimed that we were all related anyway.

He also said that another group of soldiers was on their way and their job was to forcefully remove me from my home if I resisted.

The gentleman who seemed to be their spokesman looked familiar to me as the SDL Nasinu Branch Secretary. I do not know his name.

I asked their spokesman if I could change into decent clothes of which he said yes.

I went back to our bedroom and changed into a mustard Marcs three-quarter pants, a “Fiji Me” bright green round neck T‑Shirt, pink golf cap, and brown leather Hush Puppies slippers.

Before I walked out of the house, I called my Munro Leys lawyer, Mr Richard Naidu, to advise him of what was happening.

I then walked out peacefully and into the yellow rental car with the soldiers.

I was introduced by the spokesman to each of them and he mentioned that the one sitting on my left was from Vanuabalavu, Lau, and the one on my right was from Namosi.

The Namosi lad looked like the person who headed the Namosi soldiers who presented an apology to Commodore Bainimarama for their part in the 2000 coup.

I do not know his name.

The other two soldiers were calling him “Sir” so I can only assume that he is a high ranking officer.

Their spokesperson did not elaborate on the driver, who was also an indigenous Fijian.

They mentioned that they were also after Imrana Jalal, Virisila Buadromo and the rest of our pro-democracy youth group.

Imrana's home is two houses away from mine and I told them to leave her family alone and that there was no point in going to Imrana's home since she was away overseas for business anyway.

The four soldiers were very friendly and we were even cracking some jokes on our way to the camp.

They said that most of the soldiers were SDL supporters and that I shouldn't be afraid.

I told them that even-though I helped with the SDL election campaign, I was totally against most of the things they came up with soon after the election and that I was not supporting SDL but was doing what I was doing not for the restoration of the SDL government but for the restoration of democracy and law and order in Fiji.

As we arrived at the camp, I was told to walk into a room situated on the left hand side of the main gate which I will call the guardhouse.

The Namosi soldier gently requested that I hand over my cap, Sony Ericsson mobile phone and Raymond Weil watch, which I did.

They told me to sit a while on a white plastic chair and after a few minutes, I was led into a passage way from where I was sitting and realised that they were cells. On my left, I noticed two young men asleep in the first cell in their underwear snoring and noticed another figure in the same cell but couldn't figure out whether it was a person as it was quite dark.

On my right, I noticed my business partner, Imraz lqbal, lying on his back on the cold cement in his red underwear.

I greeted him before they locked me in the cell opposite Imraz's.

After a few minutes, they opened the cell again and led me further down to the last cell where they locked me up again. The cell was darker than the one before. An indigenous Fijian soldier in civilian clothing came to me and started accusing me of talking against the army takeover.

He ordered that the mattress I was sitting on be removed so that I could sit on the cold cement floor.

More indigenous Fijian soldiers walked over to my cell to peek with some saying their “bulas”' while the others did not utter a word.

Overall, the soldiers at the guard house were pleasant and not intimidating except for that gentleman who was angry about my pro‑democracy stand.

After about 20 minutes in the cell, the Namosi soldier came and freed me and asked if we could go together to get Pita Waqavonovono, another pro‑democracy advocate.

He was very apologetic and told me that he was very sorry with all that was happening and the inconvenience it was causing.

I told him it was ok and that I fully understood that he was only doing his job for his family's welfare.

As I walked out of the guardhouse, I saw a man that looked like Meli Bainimarama, Commodore Bainimarama's son in full uniform and watching me walk out.

The Namosi soldier led me to a four-wheel drive parked outside the guardhouse.

He sat at the front passenger seat with the driver on his right while I sat alone at the back seat.

They drove me to Pita Waqavonovono's dad's house, Mosese Waqavonovono, opposite the St Agnes Primary School at lower Mead Road.

The gate was locked and there were dogs barking from inside the gate.

By then, I noticed another white car with more soldiers parked next to the car I was in. I deduced that it may have been an unmarked escort.

The Namosi soldier then asked me politely to call Pita and to explain to him that he needed to come out and to join us peacefully.

I called Pita who advised that he lived with his mum and step‑dad at 58 Pathik Crescent Place in Namadi Heights.

I explained to him that the soldiers wanted to talk to our group and that it was important that he adhere to their orders and to join me peacefully when we get to his place. He agreed.

Our entourage went straight to Pita's house where I was again requested by the Namosi soldier to call Pita to walk out peacefully.

His step‑dad, Ratu Timoci Vesikula, came out first and asked the Namosi soldier what he wanted in the Fijian language.

The soldier explained that they were there to take Pita to the camp.

Ratu Timoci asked the soldier as to what type of leadership the army was doing for demanding his child's removal from their family home to the camp.

The soldier replied that they only wanted to ask him some questions.

Ratu Timoci asked the soldier whether it wasn't enough for the army that his child was already taken to court for his peaceful protest and why the army demanded further interrogation when the matter was in court.

The soldier replied that he was only carrying out orders from his superiors.

Ratu Timoci then asked for Commodore Bainimarama's number to tell him how disgusted he was with the way the military was treating his son and their leadership style.

The soldier and Ratu Timoci exchanged angry words and the soldiers admitted that he did not know Commodore's mobile number.

Ratu Timoci then invited the soldiers in for a cup of tea but the soldiers rejected his offer.

He then sought assurance from the soldier that if they were to take his son, the army will have to make sure that they return him in one piece to their home.

The soldier agreed.

Ratu Timoci then walked back into the house and walked Pita to the car I was in.

Ratu Timoci and his wife said their “hellos” to me and we were transported back to the camp where I was dropped off again at the guardhouse.

Pita was asked by the Namosi soldier to accompany another group of soldiers to pick Jackie Koroi as they were not sure where she lived.

The soldier made some calls on his walkie-talkie.

He then advised me to run with him to a place he called the officers’ mess which was about 100 metres away from the guardhouse.

He led me to this semi-open hall which was in total darkness.

As we entered I noticed the silhouette of I person standing in the hall which turned out to be Virisila Buadromo.

As I moved closer to talk to her, I heard a man's voice call out that Virisila move some 10 metres away from me.

I saw another silhouette of a man standing across the hall from me. I could not see their faces as it was very dark.

Both man started asking us in the Fijian language why we were making their lives miserable by talking against the military.

I did not answer and one of them asked us to give them a reason why they should keep their soldiers out at the check‑points during Christmas.

I answered that they were doing their job.

They then demanded an answer from Virisila but she did not answer. One of them asked me whether I was intelligent of which I answered no.

One of them moved closer to me, he would be the same height as me but with a bigger and firmer built.

He wore a hat pulled down to about eye level but I couldn't make out who he was as it was too dark.

His voice sounded familiar to that of [Land Force Commander] Pita Driti.

He lifted his arm and cocked a hand gun in my face and asked me whether I knew that sound.

I answered that I did.

I could see the silhouette of the hand gun from the speck of light from a far off tube light at the top left hand corner of the building we were in.

He then ordered me to sit on the floor at the spot where I was standing.

I scratched my hair and he yelled [asking] why I was scratching my hair.

I told him that a bug crawled up my hair of which he screamed that I am not allowed to scratch my hair as it could not be a bug since there was no light.

I kept quite and remained still.

After being interrogated for about 30 minutes, we were then ordered to run to the ground directly opposite the officers’ mess.

We were led down the road onto the steps to the ground up to a cement pitch which I presume is the cricket pitch.

We were told to lie face down with our arms beside us and chin up.

One of the soldiers asked me whether I was pregnant of which I said I was not sure.

A pair of boots immediately jumped onto my lower and middle back and bounced on it for a few seconds.

The soldiers started calling us names and were swearing at us.

One of them walked to our faces and told us to kiss his boots which we did.

One of the soldiers started accusing me personally and mentioned [Navitalai] Naisoro (a friend and colleague during the SIDL election campaign), Chang (a friend and a business client of my PR company) and Weleilakeba (my ex‑husband and now a live‑in partner) and asked, "so how many other men have you f*&

He accused me of stealing money from Chang and blamed me for corruption.

I could feel boots running over my body followed by kicks on my sides and slaps on my face.

Another soldier slammed my neck and then my face against the cement with his boots.

I turned my head to the right in pain while he [trampled] my face on the ground causing my cheek to graze against the cement ground.

I felt a toad placed between my thighs and I heard a soldier say that a toad be given to Virisila to hold. She was lying face down next to me on my right and Imraz on my left.

Imraz was then told to crawl a distance forward and back again while they kicked him.

I then heard Pita and Jackie marshalled in forcefully and told to lie on the cement and the same treatment was also given to them.

The soldiers said that from the camp we should go straight to our democracy shrine in Lami and dismantle it and that they do not want to see any shrine when day light breaks because they did not want their soldiers to see any more of it.

The torture and verbal abuse went on for about 45 minutes until one of the soldiers ordered that we get up and run to the gate. We ran across the ground and jumped over a ditch. Virisila fell in the ditch since she couldn't see too well after the soldiers smashed her glasses while we were lying at the cement pitch.

She managed to scramble out quickly.

We stopped at the guardhouse by the gate to ask for our belongings but they told us to keep on running towards the main road which we did.

Pita Waqavonovono began to fall behind as he was very tired and I slowed down to be close to him.

Imraz, Jackie and Virisila were ahead of us as I was worried about Pita.

After a while, I did not hear his footsteps behind me and when I turned back, I saw two soldiers pulling him back and beating him up so I decided to go back and help him but the soldiers angrily ordered me that I continue running forward or else I was going to get it too.

I caught up with the rest of the group at the main entrance to the camp at Mead Road and saw Ms Shameema Ali and other members of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and Mrs Gina Pickering of RRRT [Regional Rights Resources Team].`

They hugged Virisila and asked us what happened when the soldiers told us to keep on running along Mead Road.

We continued running while the NGO car followed, together with two military vans packed with armed soldiers who were shouting out, “toso, toso” [move, move!].

We ran a while, walked and ran again when the soldiers shouted [at] us to run.

As we were nearing the turn off to Namadi Heights, the Namosi soldier appeared in his rental car and told us to walk as he could see that we were all very tired. We walked up the Mead Road hill and took the left turn off at Lovoni St, through Bureta St on to Princes Road.

We were passing Howard Place along Princes Road when Virisila's partner got off a car to join us.

Further down at the Indian Ambassador's residence, Angie Heffernan, a member of an NGO [executive director of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity now being hunted by the military] got off a cab and ran towards us to find out what happened but we told her that we couldn't talk much or stop as soldiers were behind us in their vans.

As we turned off to Reservoir Road, I noticed Imraz's twin cam parked opposite the Australian embassy together with the Namosi soldier's rental car.

He stopped us and gave us our belongings and told us that we were free to go.

We bade farewell with merry Christmas hugs and kisses before Jackie, myself and Imraz left in Imraz's car.

Virisila and her partner decided to find their own way home from there.

We were driving to our Lami office and democracy shrine when we were stopped by soldiers at the Delainavesi checkpoint.

We waited in the car for about 5 minutes before they gave us the ok to proceed.

When we reached the office, we noticed that the pro‑democracy banners were stripped off, the main door to my top floor office was broken together with the door to the middle floor office. Both offices were trashed with graffiti on the wall saying Merry Xmas Happy New Year Laisa Chang.

I picked up the spray cans strewn on the ground and sprayed over my name.

Jackie was picked up by her grandmother and aunt while Imraz dropped me home at around 3.30am.

What an eventful and glorious X‑mas it was!

God Bless Fiji and its peoples and may democracy and law and order be restored soonest.

Laisa Digitaki

January 26, 2007

The tactic of terror

Intelligentsiya is about presenting well-argued opinion. In a time when ordinary citizens are afraid to speak their minds fearing that armed soldiers might turn up at their doorsteps to take them away, Intelligentsiya will be a platform for free speech.

So in the spirit of free speech, here is an anonymously-written opinion piece that's been making the rounds on the email network. Pity the author is anonymous.

The tactic of terror

By Anonymous Intelligentsiya

Each time the military sends a platoon of armed soldiers to a civilian's home in the middle of the night, its respect and credibility is eroded.

It does nothing but harm to the military and to the nation as a whole. Such obvious and ham-fisted attempts to intimidate can only backfire.

In its zeal to suppress all criticism from all and any quarters, the army forgets that words present no threat to it. On the contrary, public criticism may well offer a useful safety valve that can let off steam in times of crisis without presenting even the smallest threat to the military's control.

The explanation that the military only wants to ask these people some questions is seen through by everybody in Fiji. If that was all the army wanted, a simple telephone call - preferably in daylight hours - would be quite sufficient.

The decision to send armed troops to civilian homes is quite clearly intended to traumatise families and intimidate individuals. What is not intended and not understood is the depth of resentment that this kind of behaviour is generating among the public. The only real damage here is coming from the military and it is doing it - no doubt unintentionally - for no fathomable reason.

The army's clean-up campaign began with a solid body of public support. That support, however, has declined with every person or group that has been ordered up to the camp in the dead of night and brutalised. Admittedly and thankfully the level of brutality seems to be declining and everyone should welcome that.

But the army will restore complete confidence and respect by stopping it altogether.

The Interim Government's attorney general has added his own weight to the argument against midnight interrogations pointing out that the Public Order Act could achieve the desired end without resorting to detentions and assaults that demean the military in the public consciousness.

The time for suppression - if there ever was such a time - is gone. The Interim Government needs the support of the population as it seeks to make progress. Such support cannot be commanded at gunpoint. It will need to be earned. The military can and should contribute to the progress that all of Fiji wants to see. It has the manpower, the equipment, the organisation and the discipline.

But the tactic of terror takes us a giant step in the wrong direction.

Freedom is the right to raise my voice

Intelligentsiya was first conceived in 2006 as an opinioted magazine website that would post provocative topics and encourage level-headed debate. It has been discussed among a small band of like-minded people - the "intelligentsia" if you will - but has only now got off the ground, albeit with a somewhat different debut.

After the Fiji military's December 5, 2006 coup, we felt that a site like Intelligentsiya was all the more important to document and discuss the army's ever-growing human rights abuses - most notably the silencing of dissenting opinion by detention and intimidation. These abuses are carried out by the armed forces in the name of "national security".

The army trots out the usual line whenever they are questioned about the latest arrest and interogation of somebody who expresses any sort of opinion that doesn't sit well with them: "They were arrested because they had made inciteful comments."

But "inciting" would be calling people to arms, to riot through the capital, to loot the central business district in defiance of the military rulers. But none of the scores of people who've been the victims of the military's heavy-handness have actually made such calls.

Intelligentsiya will bear witness to these abuses.

A blog was the simplest and fastest way to begin publishing but eventually we hope to become a fully-fledged website where Fiji's citizens and anyone with something sensible to say about Fiji's situation will have the total freedom to air these views.

Several years ago, some editors were asked by the Freedom Forum, an American press freedom body, to write something about what freedom means to them. On the last page of the booklet that emerged from those essays an editor had summed up what it meant to him: Freedom is the right to raise my voice.

Let freedom live.