#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2010-01-03

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jalal says she's being singled out

A Fiji-based human rights activist says she's been singled out for prosecution because of her opposition to the coup-installed interim government.

The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is bringing a case against Imrana Jalal for operating a business without a licence, has applied to have the trial transferred to the High Court.

Ms Jalal tells Radio Australia's Bruce Hill that although she's usually in court as a lawyer, she has plenty of experience of being in the dock as well.

Bruce Hill
Speaker: Fiji human rights activist
Imrana Jalal

JALAL: Well it's a very interesting place to be Bruce, but actually that is not the first time I have been there. I was prosecuted by the Rabuka regime, I am now being prosecuted by the Bainimarama regime and I wish George Speight had been long enough to charge to prosecute me also, so I would have an unblemished record that way.

HILL: Well, you're being charged over something I believe has a maximum penalty of a $20 fine, operating a restaurant without a licence. Why is this being taken to the High Court?

JALAL: Well, of course, in normal circumstance, there would be no request by the prosecutor to take this matter like this to a High Court, because it is actually a civil misdemeanour. So what happened was my husband had a restaurant, I was a silent director and he was asked to apply for a licence which he did. The Suva City Council took a long time to process the licence. When we finally got it, FICAC is prosecuting us for the period in which we did not have the licence while we were waiting for the restaurant licence. So it really is a civil misdemeanour.

More them 50 per cent of businesses in Fiji operate on that basis. When you open a business, you apply for a licence, but the Suva City Council allows you to proceed into business while the licence is being processed. So we're being singled out for prosecution. There are a number of very large businesses which are new and operating without a licence, but, of course, we have been singled out by FICAC.

HILL: Why do you think you have been singled out?

JALAL: Well, I think it's because of our political belief. I've called the Fiji government to account many times for the continuing human rights violations, where there is no freedom of speech. I belong to a number of human rights organisations for whom I associate with on a voluntary basis. We have been very critical of the government publicly about the position they have taken on human rights, rule of law, democracy, so I think that this is part of a campaign to shut us all up.

Having said that, on the 5th January 2010, Land Force Commander Pita Driti gave a very, very strong warning to people who were anti-government that they would be watched very carefully and that this year, he said, you will be treated the way you deserve and words to that affect. So I think I am one of the first casualties.

HILL: Well, on the other hand though, here you are talking to an overseas journalist pretty freely and excoriating the government. Obviously it is not North Korea or Burma. It's not as bad as that in Fiji surely?

JALAL: No, it is not as bad as Burma or Zimbabwe or elsewhere. However, I have pretty sure that my phone calls are being monitored and I am pretty sure that the conversation between you and me is being monitored very clearly, otherwise they would not know some of the stuff I was doing.

However, it is all relevant isn't it? I mean we have military censors in every newsroom. All the media in this country.

There is absolutely no independent or dissenting voice allowed to be published. I made a statement a few days ago about the FICAC prosecutions. None of what I said defending myself has been published in the local media, although it has been in the international media.

So I mean I guess its a relevant contest, even if our human rights is not being seen as flagrant violation. We have to protect them, because if you don't protect the small violations, they will just get bigger and bigger.

HILL: Why don't you just pay the $20 fine and just have it over and done with?

JALAL: I won't allow Mr Bainimarama to convict me for something I did not commit. I am a human rights lawyer. Where is my worth if I buckle at the first public persecution of me if you like. No, I won't plead guilty. I have been advised by a few of my lawyer friends, Imrana, just pay the fine, plead guilty, it's only a civil misdemeanour and it will be over and done with. You will be free the next day and I said I refuse to do that
(Radio Australia's Pacific Beat/Pacific Media Watch)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jalal appears in court over charges

Human rights activist Imrana Jalal appeared in the Magistrate Court in Stuva today to answer to charges brought against her by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption but no plea was taken.

She is facing seven counts of operating a business without a license.

FICAC alleges her restaurant business did not close down after the Suva City Council asked it to  for breaching the Public Health Act.

Jalal is represented by Suva lawyer Devanesh Sharma.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fiji purges legal services

Fiji's military regime is purging its legal services, firing four prosecutors and three magistrates without giving reasons.

The action comes as the military's number two, Brigadier Pita Driti, issued a public warning for regime critics.
Fiji military chief Voreqe Bainimarama has ruled Fiji since a coup in December 2006 and last year created what he called "a new legal order".

After earlier removing the chief justice, he now rules by decree, advised by a military council whose members are not known.

Fiji's Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions plays a key role in the country, but this week the military installed a new director, Aca Rayawa, a supporter of the regime.

Rawaya then sacked his predecessor John Rabuku and three other prosecution lawyers who he did not name.
Sources name them as Heilala Tabete, Nancy Tikoisuva and Navinesh Nand - who were all fired and told to leave immediately, without explanation.

All were survivors of the democratic government.

Last year when Bainimarama removed the constitution he also sacked judges and magistrates and replaced them with those more acceptable to the regime.

However three of them - Eparama Rokoika, Elsie Hudson and Mary Muir - were fired this week, also without explanation.

When Bainimarama took over the country he vowed to end "high level corruption" and created the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption.

But in the four years since then, the commission has had no significant prosecution success and not revealed any major corruption.

Yesterday it announced it was bringing charges against a prominent lawyer, Imrana Jalal, who has been critical of the military regime.

She and her husband Sakiusa Tuisolia have been charged with operating a restaurant, Hook and Chook, without a licence. Jalal denies the charge.

In a broadcast yesterday on military-censored Fiji Broadcasting, Driti, who is commander of Land Forces and is effectively the second ranked head, said 2010 should be a very stable and peaceful year.

"As a member of the military council and interim government I know that the majority of our citizens do agree with that," he said in his broadcast.

"There are only a few people who could term as adversaries - but I would discourage them from doing anything and I would like to tell them to keep low and try to co-operate with us in trying to maintain peace, otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year."

Driti's plain speaking, which has included an attack on New Zealand, has caused problems in the past. Bainimarama attempted to have him made Fiji's high commissioner to Malaysia, but Kuala Lumpar would not accept him as a diplomat - Michael Field

Jalal speaks out against false charges

On 1 January 2010 while breakfasting with my family at a hotel in Denarau, Nadi, Fiji, I was served by two officers from the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) with seven charges alleging breaches of the Public Health (Hotels, Restaurant and Refreshment Bars) Regulations, the Food Safety Act and the Penal Code.

The charges relate to a business operated by a company , Bottomline Investments, of which I am a director but have not been involved in the day to day running. The restaurant charges normally attract a penalty of FJD20.00 (USD10.00) and are Suva City Council offences. A large number of businesses in Suva operate without a licence, whilst their applications for licences are being processed. The allegations are categorically denied and the charges will be strenuously defended.

These charges are part of a continuing strategy by the current military regime to target, persecute and silence critics. I am a human rights lawyer with a long record of public opposition to all unlawful (military and non-military) undemocratic regimes, including that of Sitiveni Rabuka, George Speight and now, Voreqe Bainimarama. Since the coup d’etat in December 2006 I have regularly called the current military regime to account for the violations of human rights in Fiji. 

In December 2006, after my published opposition to the military takeover, I was threatened with rape, in graphic detail, via an anonymous call to my mobile. I was warned to shut my mouth or “they” would shut it for me. That call was traced to a phone booth just outside the gates of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, home of the Fiji Military Forces. Twenty minutes prior to the call, Colonel (now Brigadier) Mohammed Aziz had asked Major Davina Chan to call my office to get my mobile number. I made a police complaint about that threat of rape including this information. Brig. Aziz has a close relationship with the FICAC lawyer, also a  military officer ,  prosecuting me.

FICAC, as with most significant government bodies, is headed by a military officer. FICAC was established to investigate and prosecute corruption but instead has been used to also persecute persons not supportive of the military regime. The basic import of the charges against me is that the business was run without a licence – not a corruption matter – nor one which FICAC is legally permitted to prosecute. Such prosecutions are normally commenced by the Central Board of Health or the Suva City Council.

The maximum fine prescribed is FJD20 (approx USD20). The Penal Code charges allege a failure to obey a lawful order. No lawful (nor indeed unlawful) order has been issued against myself or the business.

The method of service chosen by FICAC appears to have been a deliberate attempt to humiliate and embarrass me in a public place with my family. I live and work in Suva, where the offices of FICAC are located, and where service would be a simple matter. At the time of service we were on holiday with friends and staying in their private villa, part of a hotel complex 200 km away. We were not registered at the hotel thus making it surprising that FICAC was aware of my whereabouts.

Fiji’s Military Forces Land Force Commander Brigadier Pita Driti, was reported in the media on 5 January 2006 warning Fiji citizens that they should remember “who is in control.” He went on to threaten any dissenters “...there are only a few people who [we] could term as adversaries - but I would discourage them from doing anything and I would like to tell them to keep low and try to cooperate with us in trying to maintain peace otherwise they will be in for something really hard in terms of how we will treat them this year.”

This current targeting of me by the regime follows legal action taken against my husband. He has had numerous charges presented and later withdrawn by FICAC. Similar charges relating to running a business without a licence were served on my husband prior to me, again in a manner designed to maximise humiliation and harm. When my husband’s charges were raised in the Magistrates Court on 29 December 2009, Magistrate Mary Muir queried the basis on which FICAC was prosecuting minor local authority misdemeanours. She suggested that it was outside FICAC’s jurisdiction and a matter for the Suva City Council.

There was an unedifying altercation between the FICAC prosecuting lawyer and the magistrate. It has been reported in the media on 5 January 2010 that shortly after this matter was   first raised in court , the magistrate had her contract terminated. This is not an isolated incident. Other magistrates have had their contracts terminated after making decisions contrary to the submissions of FICAC.

It appears that the strategy of FICAC in the various actions taken against myself and my husband is not to go to trial, but to keep the matters pending in order to harass, intimidate, persecute and to wear us down. In particular they are likely to want to stop me from travelling to high level human rights meetings and to divert me from my work.

P. Imrana Jalal,

Human Rights Lawyer

Commission quiet on Jalal charges

Fiji’s Independent Commission Against Corruption has declined to disscuss reports it laid charges against prominent human rights lawyer Imrana Jalal.

Jalal has been charged alongside her husband Sakiusa Tuisolia for allegedly operating a restaurant without a proper license.

She was charged on New Years day while holidaying in Nadi.

Jalal is expected to appear in court this Friday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Media decree out soon

The Public Emergency Regulation will be lifted in Fiji as soon as the new Media Decree is implemented.

Permanent Secretary for Information Lt Colonel Neumi Leweni confirms that work on the new Media Decree has started and it should be in place soon.

When Fijivillage News questioned Lt Colonel Leweni whether the PER is now only in place only for the media, he said there are some other matters apart from the media.

But he confirms that the introduction of the Media Decree will end the PER.

Meanwhile the Public Emergency Regulation has been extended for another 30 days.

The extension was made on the January 3.
(Fijivillage.com/Pacific Media Watch)