Dozens of people have been arrested in Fiji after authorities said they were trying to incite political upheaval or violence, saying some were involved with a paramilitary-style training group, while others were attempting to set up a sovereign Christian state.
In a wave of arrests that has gathered pace this month, 63 people face charges which carry maximum sentences of either 10 years or 15 years in prison.
The arrests come less than a year after the Pacific nation of 900,000 held landmark elections that many hoped would usher in an era of stable democracy following years of political turmoil and a series of military coups.
Some residents have accused Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama of using the arrests to silence political dissent. Bainimarama seized control of Fiji in a 2006 coup and ruled as an autocrat before his Fiji First party won last year’s popular vote.
“Put simply, any insurrection will be crushed,” Bainimarama said in a speech last week. “Because it is not in the interests of the Fijian people as a whole, who are sick and tired of a tiny minority trying to sow division and insecurity and holding our nation back.”
Authorities have released few details of the allegations.
In response to written questions, the Fijian Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said 31 of those arrested were connected with the alleged paramilitary group, while two groups of 16, from different parts of the main island of Viti Levu, were allegedly connected with the sovereign Christian state movement.
The group of 31 faces charges of sedition, which comes with a maximum seven-year sentence, and urging political violence, which comes with a 15-year maximum sentence. The others face charges of sedition and inciting communal antagonism, which comes with a 10-year maximum sentence, the office said.
Of the 63 arrested, 16 have been released on bail, while 47 remain in jail.
Those arrested include some indigenous Fijian chiefs, a group that has seen its power diminished under Bainimarama’s rule after he ended preferential indigenous representation in the Parliament and abolished the Great Council of Chiefs.
In his speech, Bainimarama said it was a lie to say that either Christianity or the indigenous Fijian way of life was under threat.
Lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh, who is representing more than half of those arrested, said many have had their rights violated because they were thrown in jail without any credible evidence to back the charges.
He said the people posed no risk to Fiji’s stability, especially because the allegations related to events that took place late last year.
“If they were a threat to national security, I’m quite certain they would have caused all sorts of chaos by now, but they’ve continued to live as peaceful members of society, and nobody’s had any issues with them,” Ravindra-Singh said.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big