March 12, 2013

The Telegraph: Fiji government stands by alleged torturers

The military leader of the Pacific state of Fiji, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has scoffed at concerns about a disturbing torture video which appears to show two men being attacked by security officials.
By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney
12:44AM GMT 09 Mar 2013

The graphic nine-minute video, showing two handcuffed men being brutally beaten, has led to calls for an independent investigation and prompted warnings the footage could discourage visits by international tourists.

The former British colony, which was suspended from the Commonwealth after the 2006 coup, is heavily reliant on tourism and receives about 25,000 British visitors a year.

In his first comments on the video, Commodore Bainimarama, the country’s self-appointed prime minister, pledged support for the attackers, who have been identified by police as state security personnel.

“At the end of the day, I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation,” he told news website Fijivillage.

“We cannot discard them just because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation and making sure we sleep peacefully at night.”

The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows one man in the back of a pick-up truck being attacked with a baton and metal bars and another man in a field being attacked by a dog on a leash while the officials watch and laugh.

Amnesty International this week called for the military regime to condemn torture, saying the video was “part of a long list of allegations of torture and beatings in Fiji". The organisation said it believed the video was taken last year and the victims were prison escapees. New Zealand’s government also raised concerns about the video and warned it could discourage tourists from visiting.

However, Commodore Bainimarama dismissed the criticisms and rejected calls for an external investigation of the footage.

“NGOs are paid by the international community to jump up and down every time we do something,” he said. “That’s their job, they’re paid to do that by the people that fund them. I really don’t think we should worry too much about what the NGOs say in instances such as this.”

Opposition figures in Fiji have raised doubts about the credibility of the regime’s internal investigation into the video.

“I’m afraid, as it stands, of course they’re going to conduct their own investigation and most people don’t believe, or don’t expect, anything to come of it,” said a local opposition figure, Mick Beddoes. “Based on their actions to date, it is obvious the persons involved work for the regime in one position or another.”

Britain, Australia and New Zealand have been critical of the military regime’s repeated failure to hold elections. The Commonwealth suspension and the imposition of sanctions have encouraged the military regime to strengthen ties with countries such as China and Russia.

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