January 02, 2012

Michael Field: Top NZ lawyer heading to Fiji over jailed grandmother

Michael Field

Prominent Auckland QC Peter Williams is heading to Fiji to act for a 74-year-old grandmother who is in military regime custody and will face charges that she tried to overthrow dictator Voreqe Bainimarama.

Her detention since Friday coincided with Bainimarama yesterday announcing he would on Saturday end martial law imposed over two years ago when the country’s Court of Appeal ruled that his 2006 coup was illegal.

On Friday the police seized businesswoman and former MP Dr Mere Samisoni and three others.

They have been interrogated in custody, without lawyers, since then.

This afternoon the military regime said Samisoni, Mataiasi Ragigia, Apete Vereti and Semisi Lasike would be charged “with the offence urging political violence,” contrary to a military decree passed in 2009.

“The four, between the months of September and December 2011, in Suva in the Central Division intentionally conspired to overthrow by force of violence the Government of Fiji,” the Ministry of Information said this afternoon.

“They are to appear at the Suva Magistrate Court tomorrow morning."

Williams, who has a 50-year record of involvement in New Zealand criminal courts and acted for some of the biggest names in court history, left for Fiji this afternoon to act for Samisoni.

Her British based family fear the grandmother of 11 would be one of the last to be prosecuted under martial law.

Samisoni, who founded the popular 30-store Hot Bread Kitchen chain before turning to politics where she won the Lami Open ward for the party of prime minister Laisenia Qarase, has been held in Suva's infamous Central Police Station over the long New Year's weekend.

Daughter Vanessa Charters, speaking on the family's behalf, said they had been told that Dr Samisoni had allegedly made a confession.

“At this moment in time we aren’t sure what this alleged confession relates to but we do know for a fact, we have had it independently verified, that mum's lawyer was not present at the time of this so-called confession,” she said.

Yesterday in an address to the nation Bainimarama said the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulation on January 7 would lead the way to a discussion on a new constitution – the fourth since independence in 1970.

Martial law, introduced in April 2009, banned any public meetings and imposed tight censorship on all media. It gave the military and police to detain people for days without charge and in some cases to take people to the military barracks near Suva where they where physically and mentally abused.

Bainimarama gave no details of what will replace martial law, but in the case of the media the regime has already created a state controlled media council with tough powers to control what is printed.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a military coup in 2006, says he will hold elections in 2014.

He claimed that the existing voting system was racially based with indigenous Fijians having greater voting power than the ethnic Indians who make up around 35 percent of the 900,000 people.

He said Fiji had been mismanaged and hindered by greed and selfishness.

“You and I must not allow a few to dictate the destiny of our country for their own selfish needs,” he said.

He warned features of a new constitution will be non-negotiable.

“The constitution must establish a government that is founded on an electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage – a truly democratic system based on the principle of one person, one vote, one value.

“We will not have a system that will classify Fijians based on ethnicity….”

Consultation would begin next month: “To facilitate this consultation process, the Public Emergency Regulations will cease from 7 January 2012.”

Under martial law people are not allowed to gather without authorization and all media faces tough censorship.

But its been revealed that in the Namosi highlands west of Suva villagers have protested against a planned gold and copper mine operated by Australia’s Newcrest Mining Ltd.

The protest on December 14 was not reported at all in Fiji but witnesses say the people of Namois “staged a quiet protest against the proposed mining project on their land…

“(The) women and children sat outside holding banners calling for their land to be left alone. Witnesses say some women were crying as they sat outside.”

So far the regime has not responded to requests for comment on Samisoni, or the mining protest.

Meanwhile the Fiji Government’s website - www.fiji.gov.fj – last night published Bainimarama’s statement, but since then has been hacked into and cannot now be reached.

2 January 2012

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Will have to wait and see of the lifting of this PER, hopefully it is lifted fully without any attachments or conditions to it.

What are they [police/military] scared off, just one female making comments against FB and she is taken into custody.

Who is this Sharon Smith cant she go to her native country and apply for the same job there.

Isa vakaloloma ga na kai viti all their jobs being taken up by these opportunist expats who cant find a job in their own countries.