Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Deported publisher: China key to successfully isolating Fiji's illegal government
By RUSSELL HUNTER, former publisher and chief executive of the Fiji Sun
If ever there was a time for Australia, New Zealand, their Pacific Islands Forum colleagues and the international community to instigate stronger action against the illegal regime in Fiji, that time is now.
If the sanctions – which prevent those with connections to the military or the self-appointed government from entering a range of countries – were not effective we’d hear much less bleating about them from the dictatorship.
The time to act is now. With its latest “decrees” the junta has now abandoned all pretence to governance and is revealed for what it is – a gang of opportunists out to cling indefinitely to the trappings of power.
The Media Decree announced last week could have come straight from George Orwell’s classic satirical novel Animal Farm in which all animals are equal – but some are more equal than others.
It establishes a “Media Development Authority” which will seriously stunt the media’s development. In fact it will hand over control of the nation’s media to the illegal regime. This will be done through the now familiar bully-boy tactics so beloved of the Bainimarama military. Journalists and editors who don’t toe the junta’s line can be fined, jailed or both. The sole authority with power to do this will be directly and fully controlled by the junta.
At the same time the draconian decree aims to expropriate the assets of the country’s largest news organisation, The Fiji Times. Its sins? It has reported “negatively”, it has declined to accord Bainimarama the title of prime minister (even though he was not and never will be elected) and it has not acted in the best interest of Fiji (read in the best interest of the junta).
So its sole owner, the Murdoch-controlled News Ltd, will have to relinquish 90 per cent of its shares – no doubt to an entity more to the junta’s liking.
Ironically, the nation’s other daily which in recent times has offered nothing less than grovelling support to the junta is caught by the same decree.
Never mind the message this sends to the investment community at a time when inward investment in Fiji is next to zero, the junta’s survival comes first. Absurd as it may seem from a distance, the regime seriously believes that if it can just persuade- or now force – the media to say that all is well, then it will be.
Then comes the Immunity Decree which quite literally allows members of the army to get away with murder.
This has its origins in the 2000 coup for which George Speight is still serving a life sentence and the violent mutiny of November of the same year at the army barracks in Nasinu outside Suva. Members of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit, a supposedly highly trained special operations team, mutinied killing three of their fellow (non-CRW) troops and attempting to kill their commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama for reasons that remain unclear but are probably an amalgam of support for the Speight coup and resentment that a navy man had command of the army.
The mutiny failed and those responsible paid a heavy penalty. Two CRW members were killed during the shoot-out at the barracks and three more were arrested and quite literally kicked to death by loyalist soldiers. At least one of their victims had no connection with the mutiny and was picked up from a lecture at the Fiji Institute of Technology. He was not seen alive again – at least not by his family and friends.
The police began a murder investigation following the deaths but co-operation from the military was less than exemplary. In fact it was non-existent. Any suspects were quickly sent on overseas missions, including peace keeping duties while police had extreme difficulty in gaining access to the barracks to pursue their inquiries.
Now the immunity decree absolves the army and especially its commander of all and any acts that might otherwise be considered crimes. It is backdated to 2000 for obvious reasons.
How can any law-abiding, democratic nation look other than askance on such a regime, one that puts its own interest ahead of those of the people it purports to represent?
The Pacific island nations need to take heed of Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sai’lele Maleilegaoi’s words that the decrees are the “just the latest in a long string of events to gain absolute, unchallenged and unfettered power.”
Similarly, China needs to re-examine its policy towards the illegal regime in Fiji. Its decision to prop up a ramshackle military junta in the face of overwhelming domestic and foreign opposition will do it ultimate harm and simply prolong the agony of Fiji’s suffering people.
Make no mistake, the regime’s litany of motherhood statements concerning fairness, equality, transparency and accountability must be read in the context of the two decrees cited above. In other words, it’s all a sham.
For if, as the regime would have us believe, it is popular at home why the need for all the bodyguards? Why the need to suppress the truth? And, above all, why not have an election right now and show the world that Fiji backs the junta?
The answer is that there is seething and growing resentment against the regime at home. People fear to speak out, knowing what happens to critics and but for a few self-interested exceptions mainly in the business community, the junta is detested and it knows it.
All attempts by the outside world to re-engage with Fiji have been regarded in the Queen Elizabeth Barracks (the real centre of power in Fiji) as signs of weakness to be exploited – hence the unacceptable and quite astonishing offer of the leading coup mouthpiece as head of mission to Wellington.
It’s time. The best thing the region and the world at large – including and perhaps especially China – can do for the people of Fiji is to further isolate the illegal regime while promoting an urgent return to democratic rule.
The genuine people of Fiji will thank them for it.
Picture: Junta leader Bainimarama with Cai Jinbiao, the ambassador of China in 2008, when the republic gfted $200,000 to Fiji after Cyclone Gene.