#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2009-05-24

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

BREAKING - Fire at Trade Unionist's office

An attempt was made tonight to burn down the office of Attar Singh, the general secretary of the Fiji Post and Telecom Association.

Singh who also heads the Fiji Democracy group, recently had his house and cars stoned.

This is the second time an attempt was made to burn down his Knolly street office.

The incident happened between 9pm and 10pm tonight and burnt the visitors lounge scalded.

Firemen found an empty gallon at the back of the office and a jug of petroleum at the front door entrance of the building.

They also found a green farmers hat, typically worn by soldiers.

The firemen were able to stop the fire from spreading to the rest of the Naqova House building on Knolly Street.

Amnesty International Report on Fiji

The interim, military-supported government continued to violate freedom of expression and intimidate journalists and members of the public.

The Fiji Human Rights Commission supported the expulsion of senior media figures from the country and attacked the role played by human rights NGOs in Fiji civil society. Reports of violence against women continued.

Freedom of expression
In February, Minister of Defence Epeli Ganilau ordered Russell Hunter, publisher of the Fiji Sun, to be deported to Australia after a series of articles were published alleging that a senior cabinet minister had evaded tax.

The deportation was carried out by immigration officials despite the seven-day notice and appeal period given in Minister Ganilau’s order. Hunter had no opportunity to challenge the Minister’s decision.

In May, Immigration officials deported Evan Hannah, publisher of the Fiji Times, to Australia after a number of articles critical of the interim government were published.

During his arrest and detention, Evan Hannah had no opportunity to appeal against the decision to deport him, nor did he have access to his lawyer once he was removed from his home.

Government officials ignored a court order instructing immigration and police officials to produce Evan Hannah in the Suva High Court on 2 May.

In August, journalist Serafina Silaitoga was subjected to threats and intimidation by police officers in Labasa, after her article criticizing a senior Cabinet Minister was published in the Fiji Times on 9 August. Police officers tried to force her to make a statement on her article and when she refused to do so without legal representation, threatened to lock her in a police cell.

In February, a report commissioned by the Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) called for greater regulation of the media, including the setting up of a media tribunal. In August, the interim government announced that it would establish a tribunal to provide stronger regulation of the media.

In June, an FHRC report on the deportation of the two above newspaper publishers attacked NGOs and called for increased government scrutiny of their activities and funding. The report also published confidential emails between NGO representatives and the newspaper publishers discussing the political situation in Fiji.

The ousted leader of the opposition, Mick Beddoes, raised a concern that the Commission was able to access private and confidential emails between human rights defenders and other individuals working for human rights NGOs.

Torture and other ill-treatment
In July, escaped prisoner Josefa Baleiloa was severely beaten by police officers during and following his recapture in Suva. Josefa Baleiloa was in a coma for two weeks and died as a result of his injuries in September.

According to television news reports, Josefa Baleiloa was beaten by more than 10 police officers long after he had been subdued. Witnesses reported that officers dragged Josefa Baleiloa, beat him with pieces of timber and stones, jumped on him after he lost consciousness and continued to do so as he was taken away in a police vehicle.

No investigation into his death has been carried out.

Violence against women and girls

Levels of violence against women remained high. Reports of sexual violence against women and girls increased.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Beating another example of human rights being suppressed

The family and friends of the young police officer who was beaten and charged with theft of a mobile phone - then dismissed from the force - say they tried to get the interim government and the media to help.

Raj Shavendra Prasad, of the Nausori Police Station, was beaten on Saturday May the 16th by a group of seven people, in what's understood to be revenge for ticketing one of the men several weeks before.

Coupfourpointifve sources say Prasad's supporters even sought the help of the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

More importantly, they also gave the Fiji Times and Fiji Television photos and evidence of Prasad’s bashing more than a week ago but no story has appeared.

Sources say the two media oganisations told the family the story was pulled by the regime's censors.

The Prasad bashing is an example of human rights violations being suppressed in Fiji.

Prasad is recovering at home after being discharged from hospital on May the 25th and no longer has a job.

But his relatives and friends are frustrated that an innocent man and father of a young child, was harmed by his colleagues and senior officers while his attackers are leading a free life.

Fiji on Ratu Sukuna Day

Today is a public holiday in Fiji, in honour of Fiji’s first and greatest Fijian statesman, Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vana’ali’ali Sukuna, otherwise known as Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.

Ratu Sukuna was a high chief and a decorated soldier as well as a scholar and a statesman. He was born on May the 22nd in 1888 and died on May the 30th in 1958, aged 70. He died on board the Indian ship Arcadia while travelling to England.

Despite being a high chief, Ratu Sukuna was enrolled at Wairuku Indian School in Rakiraki. The school was founded in 1898 and is perhaps the oldest primary school in the country.

He received further education in New Zealand. When World War One broke out in 1914, Ratu Sukuna was not allowed to enlist in the British Army. Despite being a British colony, Fijians were denied enlistment, so Ratu Sukuna joined the French Foreign Legion. He was wounded in 1915 and forced to return to Fiji.

Today, Fijians make the biggest number of foreign soldiers in the British Army - an army that has gallantly served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few also served in the elite Special Air Services, the SAS Troops.

During World War Two, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu was posthumously awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for sacrificing his life and saving those of his comrades while under attack from Japanese troops in the Solomon Islands.

But his greatest legacy was the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board as the custodian of all native land on behalf of the Fijian landowners. The NLTB was established in 1944 and has honoured its founder by erecting a small statue in front of its Head Office in Suva.

Most importantly, Ratu Sukuna urged the chiefs, as well as landowners, to share their prized resource – land – with the Indian population through a fair leasing system saying their presence in Fiji could not be ignored.

The gallantry and sacrifice of Ratu Sukuna, and all those who have served their country with distinction, has been shamed by the Royal - and later Republic of Fiji Military Forces since 1987 - because of its involvement and execution of four coups.

In front of Government Buildings in Suva is a statue of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.

Unfortunately, the offices in Government Buildings are occupied by the executioners of the fourth coup - something Ratu Sukuna would never have dreamt of.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Revenge beating on police officer

Pictures of a police officer who was bashed then fired from the force, have been sent to Coupfourpointfive, because the Fiji media were not allowed to report it.

Raj Shavendra Prasad was handcuffed, beaten, had liquor forced down his throat, and was charged for stealing a mobile phone - then terminated from the Fiji Police Force, in an apparent act of revenge.

The father of one, who was attached to the Nausori Police Station, was providing security at a birthday party in Baulevu, on Saturday May the 16th.

He finished up just before midnight and was ready to be dropped off by the host family when a van arrived. The seven occupants were known to Prasad and the family, so he accepted their offer to take him home.

On the way, the men handcuffed him and took him to a nearby house and beat him.

Sources say one of the seven men was ticketed by Prasad some weeks before, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Sources also say that after the group beat Prasad, they called the Police Regional Traffic Officer, Inspector Timoci.

Inspector Timoci went to the Nausori police station in the early hours of Sunday ( May the 17th), requested a vehicle and reportedly told officers, “I must go or else they will kill him."

Inspector Timoci went in a police vehicle with the ID number F/140 - driven by one Alvin - to Baulevu where he picked Prasad up and took him back to the station.

Sources say at the station, Timoci hit Prasad before handing him over to Police Constables Sanjay and Sanjeet.

Prasad was then also punched by the two officers before he was locked up and charged with theft.

Later that Sunday morning, he was interrogated by Detective Sergeant Ami Chand in the presence of Crime Officer, Inspector Shyam.

He was questioned for five hours, despite being unable to walk or talk properly.

On Monday May the 18th, Prasad was taken to the Nausori Magistrates Court, where he had to be lifted into the dock by a police officer.

Seeing his condition, the magistrate ordered immediate medical attention and an investigation into the beating.

Prasad was taken by his family to CWM Hospital where doctors diagnosed him with injuries to his spine, bruising and a fracture to his skull.

He was in hospital for six days.

It's understood Prasad received a letter saying he was "terminated" from the police, the day he was seen by doctors.

Coupfourpointfive has the letter - see right of blog.

We understand the police have not investigated Prasad's beating.

Bainimarama defends abrogation of constitution

Fiji's interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama provided an update on the political situation in Fiji as the 89th ACP Council of Ministers opened today in Brussels.

In his update he underscored the necessity of the President’s action in abrogating the 1997 Constitution following the Court of Appeals ruling of 9th April, 2009.

Bainimarama then highlighted that the abrogation of the Constitution by the President was considered necessary in the difficult legal situation Fiji was faced with on 10th April.

He told the council - the new Legal Order now allows the President to continue with the reforms that he had embarked on and which was supported by a majority of Fiji’s population and was encapsulated as a credible way forward in the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress.

The Foreign Minister for Vanuatu - Bakoa Kaltongga, supported Fiji at the Council.

And he called on ACP Council and the EU assistance to Fiji to bring about a lasting resolution to the political situation in Fiji and support the implementation of the necessary reforms for the welfare and economic wellbeing of the people - Radio Fiji

US should act smart and help Fiji

by Eni Faleomavaega
As a Pacific nation with vital national interests in Oceania, the US should pay far greater attention to the nations in that part of the world. And nowhere in Oceania is American attention more pertinent than in Fiji.

The country plays a critical role in the region. With a population close to 1 million citizens, Fiji serves as a lifeline to other island nations and it plays a vital part in trans-Pacific trade routes with vast marine and seabed minerals.

Just days after the recent crisis, I visited Suva to meet the interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, the deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase, the former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and other key leaders.

Based on those discussions, I am more convinced than ever that the US should play a more proactive and independent role, one offering the country a better chance of emerging from its current crisis, eliminating its "coup culture" once and for all and establishing a more stable government.

For too long, the US has deferred to Australia and New Zealand in the region, despite their obvious policy failures. On Fiji, Canberra and Wellington have employed heavy-handed tactics and misguided sanctions that have hurt average Fijians far more than the interim government at which they were targeted.

Punishing average Fijians will never solve the country's problems. Rather, by making life in Fiji increasingly difficult, Canberra and Wellington may well be sowing the seeds of civil unrest and violence.

In addition, as Australia and New Zealand attempt to strong-arm Fiji into complying with their dictates, China has moved in to fill the vacuum, offering grants, concessionary loans and enhanced trade opportunities. Of course, as a country with global economic reach, I commend China's efforts to provide economic and financial assistance to these island nations. After all, China is just as much part of our Pacific community as Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the US.

It should be noted that over the past five years, Australia and New Zealand's combined exports and imports to Pacific island nations were more than $US25 billion ($32 billion). Fiji alone counts for almost $US4 billion during the same period.

The problem is that the interests of Australia and New Zealand may diverge - sometimes significantly - from those of Washington.

Moreover, foreign policy elites in Australia and New Zealand erroneously view the region with a Eurocentric mentality without having a better sense of appreciation of Fiji's colonial history.

In Fiji, for example, the country's complex ethnic mix - coupled with its chiefly, provincial, religious and family rivalries - is not adequately appreciated by Canberra and Wellington. Fortunately, the Obama Administration is gaining a better understanding of Fiji - and how our friends in Canberra and Wellington have dropped the ball.

Bainimarama has made it clear that he intends to draft a constitution that will reflect the country's unique culture and history. He has also promised to enact electoral reforms that will establish equal suffrage and to hold free, fair and democratic elections.

I believe the US should take the interim Prime Minister at his word, and help Fiji move that process along as swiftly as possible.

As a first step, the US should offer the country the necessary resources to facilitate reform of its electoral process, to redraft its constitution and to better assure successful elections.

In addition, Washington should work with friends from all sides to build strong institutions capable of sustaining democracy, peace and stability in Fiji.

The US Government, our premier universities and our leading non-government organisations have the expertise, the experience and the ability to provide the sort of assistance Fiji may seek as it moves beyond its current difficulties in its political development.

Finally, Washington should offer to help strengthen the country's economy - and hence Fiji's long-term stability - through the promotion of bilateral trade and investment, particularly in its vital tourism industry.

I believe the US should work with Fiji, and every effort should be made to pursue strategic and promotional programs that would be more environmentally sustainable and more responsive to local needs.

Beyond aiding a friend during a critical period - a worthy endeavour in and of itself - greater US engagement with Fiji would provide an important opportunity for the Obama Administration to demonstrate its interest in developing a proactive and sustained approach to a key country at the vital core of Oceania.

If there was ever a moment for the Obama Administration to implement its promising policy of "smart diplomacy" in Oceania, now is the time and Fiji is clearly the place - Sydney Morning Herald

Has Fijilive been shut down?

Raw Fiji News is reporting that the military regime ordered the Fijilive website to be taken down after it published pictures of a hoax bomb scare in Suva city two days ago.

Bloggers say the whole episode was instigated by the regime, trying to instill fear into people and therefore justifying the Public Emergency Regulations.

The police, national fire authority, St John Ambulance and military bomb squad were dispatched to cordoned off areas in Suva.

The Fijilive pictures of the fiasco was picked up by Raw Fiji News, which apparantely angered military monitors, who then ordered the Fijilive site be shut down.

The pictures showed people sitting outside their offices laughing and having a good time, the opposite reaction of what sources say the interim regime wanted - scared and worried people.

Coupfourpointfive is trying to verify the story.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dass says farmers need the truth

The Fiji Cane Growers Council has expressed outrage at the umbrella body looking after farmers, for not telling the truth about why the Penang Mill still hasn't started crushing.

The Council's general secretary, Bala Dass, says cane farmers in the Penang Mill area should not start harvesting until the mill is fully repaired and an audit carried out to certify the state of preparedness of the mill

The Fiji Sugar Corporation chief executive Deo Sharan has blamed farmers, for not supplying enough cane for the mill to start crushing.

But Mr Dass said that on Friday, there was about 850 tonnes of cane supplied to the mill, more than the 800 tonnes required for the mill to start crushing.

He said since this morning, more than 1200 tonnes of cane was in the mill yard, either stockpiled, or laden on cane lorries and rail trucks waiting to be crushed.

Mr Dass said the truth is that the mill is suffering from serious mechanical defects and farmers were not told that a trial run done before the start of the crush failed.

He said the mill’s boiler is defective and cannot ignite due to lack of quality fuel.

"This warrants a serious investigation into the mill upgrade programme, for which funds were sourced from Exim Bank of India by the former government."

"Given this scenario, farmers are advised not to harvest unless industry authorities give an unequivocal guarantee through a certified audit that the mill is ready. Already farmers who have supplied 1200 tonnes of cane are incurring losses because the quality of harvested crop is deteriorating daily," Mr Dass said.

The mill’s crushing was deferred from last Tuesday May 19 to Thursday May 21.

On Saturday morning, FSC said harvesting had to be ceased because of torrential downpour.

Chaudhry's close ally tells all

A staunch ally of Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry is regretting his decision to listen and act on the wishes of his political leader.

M Krishnamurti, the former head of Fiji Sugar Corporation’s research station, aroused anger amongst the indigenous landowners and even Indo-Fijian farmers for his report calling for the de-reservation of all native land in Fiji.

The report recommended that all native land be converted to state land to increase sugar cane cultivation and stated this was the most viable ay to resolve the issue of expiring land leases.

When his report was made public by the media in February 2008, the then interim minister for finance and sugar Mahendra Chaudhry, who had commissioned the report, accused the media of twisting facts.

The report led to the suspension of the Permanent Secretary for Sugar Peniasi Sikivou who publicly criticised the report saying it was aimed at eroding the ownership rights of landowners.

However, according to sources, Krishnamurti, who has been a New Zealand citizen for many years, told his close friends he now feels he was used to fulfill Chaudhry’s personal and political agenda.

Krishnamurti recently finished his year long contract as a senior research officer at the Sugar Industry Research Institute – SRIF.

According to our sources Krishnamurti initially believed the Labour leader’s rhetoric of reviving the industry, but he now says the industry has plummeted to almost the point of no return after Chaudhry, FLP and National Farmers Union took charge of the industry from January 2007.

Sources have also told us that Krishnamurti believes the recent announcement for the Penang mill to start crushing in May will backfire on the industry and the interim regime because of poor cane quality.

According to him, there is low sugar content in cane, because it has not flowered.

Flowering is a sign that the crop is mature and has excellent sugar content.

Regime encourages complaints against lawyers

Fiji's chief registrar Ana Rokomokoti has posted a notice outside government buildings informing the public that they can make a complaint against any lawyer or law firm to her office.

The notice which is part of the Legal Practioners Decree, states that complaints against lawyers can be made orally or in writing.

The complaints can include charging excessive fees and charging a client for incomplete work or work not carried out.

Rokomokoti highlights in the notice that people can also complain against "professional misconduct" of lawyers. She defines "professional misconduct" as the conduct of a legal practitioner or law firm failing to comply with any orders or directions of the chief registrar.

Editors Note: See top of right of blog to read the full notice

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Regime clamps down on Suva businesses

As of Monday May 25, all businesses within the boundary of the Suva City Council, are required to close at 6pm everyday.

A notice was published in the weekend newspapers by SCC's chief executive Ilitomasi Verenakadavu saying that all classes of shops within the council's boundary are to operate within the hours of 6am-6pm.

Essential businesses such as service stations, pharmacies, chemists, periodicals and bakeries have been allowed to open until 9pm.

After 9pm, only service stations and bakeries are allowed to remain open.

Other businesses wanting to close at 9pm, have to apply for approval from the council and will have to pay $20 a week for a permit.

Internet cafes, amusement centres, billiard shops and fun centres are required to open between 6am-5pm daily. They are not eligible for extension.

According to the notice, the restrictions are being imposed to allow Police to curb crime under the Emergency Decree and Public Order Regulations.

But sources say this is another way for the SCC to make money, especially from supermarket owners and small trading shops who open till late each day.

Regime establishes sugar taskforce

Unknown to most cane farmers and even their leaders, a seven-member Taskforce comprising of members of the interim regime, the military, Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Sugar Cane Growers Council, has been formed to ensure there are no hiccups to the start of crushing for the 2009 season.

However, the Taskforce has already failed in its core objective due to the problems faced by the Penang mill in Rakiraki.

The mill, scheduled to start crushing on Tuesday 19th May, has not started crushing, seven days after its scheduled start of crush.

A minor component of the delay has been bad weather but most of the blame for the delay is due to mill efficiency and preparedness. This is the major area which the Taskforce was supposed to address.

The second major objective of the Taskforce is to ensure no disruption to crushing by farmers who are required to harvest cane on time. Sources in the cane belts have told us that the Taskforce visits each mill every three to four days.

The following people are on the 7 member Taskforce:

Jo Waqabaca – Agriculture Ministry (Team Leader)
Lt-Col Delana – army officer
Seru Vularika – General Manager Field Services
Kalasito – Principal Agriculture Officer
Sanjay – Sugar Research Institute of Fiji
Vinesh Kumar – Ministry of Sugar (interim PM’s office)
Sundresh Chetty – General Manager Operations – Sugar Cane Growers Council

NFU executive spends a night in police cell

An executive of the National Farmers Union (NFU) was detained at Labasa Police Station for almost 24 hours, after being arrested for allegedly defying the cancellation of a permit, to hold a meeting at Labasa Civic Centre.

Surendra Lal, a Fiji Labour Party Member of Parliament from September 2001 to 5th December 2006, was taken in by Labasa police and spent Saturday night (May 23) in police custody.

Sources say the interim regime cancelled a permit issued to NFU to hold the annual general meeting.

NFU's general secretary and Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry had already flown to Labasa from Suva when he was informed of the cancellation.

Sources say on Saturday morning Chaudhry defied the permit and gathered his executives for a meeting but police became aware of it.

Before they arrived at the meeting venue, Chaudhry hurriedly left the premises after being tipped off and instead Surendra Lal was arrested. He was released on Sunday.

A permit to hold NFU’s general body meeting (national AGM) at Lautoka was canceled at the last minute on Saturday May 16.

According to our sources, Chaudhry is trying hard to instigate a harvest boycott by firstly using the road user levy that will burden farmers, increased cost of fertilizer (which he is guilty of instigating and short-changing farmers as an interim sugar minister), and deductions from the 4th cane payment.

Aust law council condemns new decree

The Australian Law Council says it has grave concerns about the future independence of the legal profession in Fiji after the interim Government yesterday issued a decree removing the Law Society’s power to issue practising certificates.

Decree 16 places the power to issue practising certificates in the hands of the Chief Registrar of the Court, Ana Rokomokoti, a former military lawyer.

Australian Law Council President John Corcoran says he's concerned this could be the first step in the interim government's attempts to control the country's legal profession, by not allowing lawyers who oppose the regime to practise law.

He said it is alarming these measures have not been the subject of consultation with the Fiji Law Society or Fiji’s legal profession.

“Without an independent legal profession, a vital ingredient in upholding the rule of law in Fiji would be missing,” Mr Corcoran said.

He said the Law Council was also appalled at disturbing reports that the interim Government raided the offices of the Fiji Law Society over the weekend, seizing confidential documents in the process.

“The Law Council, in conjunction with the Fiji Law Society, will continue to keep a watchful eye on events to monitor whether the new arrangements result in an attack on the independence of the legal profession in Fiji,” Mr Corcoran concluded.

Editors Note: See right of blog to read Fiji's new law decree

Monday, May 25, 2009

NZ Law Society condemns decree

The Fiji regime’s decision to take over issuing practising certificates for lawyers in Fiji is "very disturbing", the president of the New Zealand Law Society, John Marshall, QC, said today, May the 25th.

By a decree dated Friday 22 May, the Fiji government has ruled that the Chief Registrar of the Court, a government employee, will take over issuing practising certificates from the Fiji Law Society. The decree says that all existing certificates will expire by the end of June and that lawyers will have to seek renewal from the Registrar before then.

Mr Marshall said the move was a very serious attack on the independence of the legal profession in Fiji and was of considerable concern.

“An independent legal profession is a vital element of the rule of law. The legal profession represents individuals in claims against the State and defends them in criminal cases brought by the State. Lawyers must be independent of State interference to be able to represent clients freely and fearlessly.

“In New Zealand, the Law Society issues practising certificates to lawyers. The Fiji Law Society has done the same for the last 12 years. We are very concerned to learn that the Fiji Government, through the Chief Registrar, will now decide who should hold a practising certificate.

“We will be watching the situation very closely and we will be extremely concerned if there is any suggestion that lawyers who oppose the regime, or who act for clients who bring cases against it, are being refused practising certificates,” he said.

“The New Zealand Law Society is also very concerned about the process by which these and other wide ranging changes to the regulation of Fiji’s legal profession have been made. There was no consultation, simply the issuing of the decree. Then, at the weekend representatives of the regime arrived at the Fiji Law Society offices to remove files relating to complaints, which, under the decree, will now also be handled by the Registrar."

Scoop and Pacific Media Watch

Blog readers worried about being detected

People in Fiji are reportedly scared to be seen using the internet in case they are thought to be reading anti-government blog sites.

That's according to one of the bloggers behind the blog Coup Four Point Five, who says it's not just bloggers themselves who are careful about being identified by the government, but blog readers as well.

Several lawyers were allegedly "outed" as anti-government bloggers last week, and were taken-in for questioning.

Radio Australia's Bruce Hill reports on people's fears about being caught reading blogs, and what they can do to remain anonymous - click on link to listen http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacbeat/stories/200905/s2580228.htm

Attorney General's file also removed

Coupfourpointfive believes one of the complaint files taken away from the Fiji Law Society headquarters on Saturday was that of a complaint against the interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, for taking an illegal oath in January 2007.

That complaint gained strength when Sayed-Khaiyum took a second oath under the New Legal Order on April 11, following the abrogation of the Constitution.

In a similar case, former Deputy Speaker Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure was disbarred from practicing law by the Society, after being sworn in as illegal Attorney-General, in May 20 1999, after the third coup by George Speight.

Vakalalabure was disbarred despite his status as Deputy Speaker. He was also jailed for six years, by Nazhat Shameem, for his part in the treasonous activities of 2000.

Files removed to facilitate judicial appointments

The raid by the interim regime on the Fiji Law Society office and the promulgation of a new Decree means those lawyers who were under investigation by the Society for breaches, are likely to gladly accept appointments to the judiciary without any fear of repercussions from the Society.

Sources say the regime raided the Law Society office because it was frustrated at its inability to appoint lawyers to the High Court bench, as well as magistrates.

The regime has so appointed 10 magistrates and four judges, including Chief Justice Anthony Gates, who was named last Friday. The judiciary has remained closed since April the 10th when the Constitution was abrogated.

Early this week, Coupfourpointfive reported Society President Dorsami Naidu was being pressured by some prominent lawyers to reach a compromise with the interim Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and allow lawyers to accept appointments to the judiciary.

Naidu refused to buckle to pressure from lawyers like Dr Mohammed Samshu Din Sahu Khan, Ba lawyer Adish Narayan - who was hired by the regime to fight several court challenges on its behalf before April the 10th - and Lautoka lawyers, Ikbal Khan and Haroon Ali Shah.

It's understood the lawyers wanted Naidu and the Law Society Council to agree that lawyers take the oath of judicial office under the New Legal Order. But Naidu and the Society’s Council were resolute in their stand that lawyers, who are Society members, can only accept judicial appointments if the 1997 Constitution is re-instated.

Law society raid a fait accompli

The Fiji Law Society headquarters at Gordon street, in Suva, was raided on Saturday afternoon and files confiscated.

It now means the Law Society has been rendered a useless organisation in terms of its existing role and authority, as the sole body representing lawyers and issuing practicing certificates annually.

At about 4.30pm on Saturday, six administration staff from the High Court - led by the interim regime’s Chief Registrar Ana Rokomokoti - forcibly removed the keys to the Law Society secretariat. The keys were in the custody of secretariat staff member, Arfana Nisha, and were forcibly taken from her by Rokomokoti and her staff.

According to our legal sources, Nisha was also taken to the Society's headquarters and told to hand over all of the files relating to complaints against lawyers. The Society was in the process of investigating several complaints against lawyers accused of various breaches of the Legal Practitioners Act and the Society’s Constitution.

The Society was informed by Rokomokoti the files were being removed with the authority of the Decree, that had been promulgated earlier that Saturday.

The Decree was not seen by the Society; nor did Rokomokoti give one to the organisation. According to sources, she told the Society it could obtain a copy of the Decree from the Government Printery. The Printery does not open during weekends.

Rokomkoti also advised the Society she is now empowered to issue Practicing Certificates to lawyers and not the Law Society as previously seen under the Legal Practitioners Act.

Coupfourpointfive reported this move by the regime two weeks ago. We reported that work was being spear-headed by Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to change the Act and basically make the Society powerless.

According to sources, Rokomokoti has informed the Society it has basically been stripped off all its powers in terms of acting as the licensing authority of lawyers and dealing with complaints against lawyers.

Coupfourpointfive has also been told Society President Dorsami Naidu told Rokomokoti to wait until the Decree came out today, before removing the files.

The Fiji Law Society has been going for 53 years, having started in 1956. Its headquarters - the secretariat - is just two minutes walk from the government buildings that house the judiciary, plus that of the Chief Registrar.

Apology to readers

Coupfourpointfive apologises to its readers for being out of action for the last two days.

We are back and will update the site tonight with the major developments of the last two days.

Vinaka