The release of those imprisoned for killing Nadi teenager, Sakiusa Rabaka, was widely expected following the abrogation of the Constitution, the introduction of the Public Emergency Regulations and the re-appointment of the military installed interim government.
But it has put to shame one of the reasons given by coup leader Frank Bainimarama for the military coup - that Laisenia Qarase’s government was interfering in the judiciary.
In the case of the eight soldiers and one police officer sentenced to a little over four years for the brutal killing of teenager Sakiusa Rabaka, the release from the Natabua prison in Lautoka comes a mere month after their sentencing at the High Court at Lautoka, by Judge Daniel Gounder.
Under Fiji’s Criminal Justice System, one-third of a prisoner's sentence is automatically slashed as soon as he or she enters prison, unless a Court rules that a prisoner serves a term of certain years as witnessed in serious murder cases where life sentences are imposed. Otherwise, life sentence in Fiji means 12-14 years.
Therefore, Rabaka’s killers would have served a minimum of at least two and half years after one-third remittance of their jail term. They would not have been eligible for release until the end of 2011.
Ironically, one of the reasons given by Frank Bainimarama for carrying out a military coup and toppling Laisenia Qarase’s Multi-Party government was that the administration was allegedly abusing the criminal justice system and interfering in the judiciary, with the then Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale liberating high profile chiefs Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and former Vice-President, Ratu Jose Seniloli from prison under the Compulsory Supervison Order (CSO).
The two were jailed for their roles in George Speight’s coup against Mahendra Chaudhry’s government in May 2000.
Qarase was also accused of approving Seniloli’s salary while he was in prison.
In another case similar to Bainimarama’s accusation of Qarase, Bainimarama’s brother-in-law Francis Kean jailed in 2008 for bashing to death a guest at a wedding in December 2006. He was out of prison after an year, serving the required two-thirds of his jail term.
Kean was paid while in remand and has been re-appointed as Commander of the Fiji Navy –the job he lost when imprisoned.