Home » Uncategorized » Least we forget………….Mr. Rika, who in the early days of martial law defied the censors by leaving whole columns of his newspaper blank instead of running censored copy, left the job in 2010 after soldiers threw gasoline bombs at his home

Least we forget………….Mr. Rika, who in the early days of martial law defied the censors by leaving whole columns of his newspaper blank instead of running censored copy, left the job in 2010 after soldiers threw gasoline bombs at his home

In Fiji, a Detour on the Road to Democracy

Andrew Quilty for The International Herald Tribune

Children in the town of Sigatoka, which is on the route between Suva and Nadi, a popular tourist destination. Fiji has been without an elected government since Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama took power in a 2006 coup. More Photos »

By MATT SIEGEL
Published: July 2, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/world/asia/in-fiji-a-detour-on-the-road-to-democracy.html?pagewanted=all

SUVA, FIJI — Fiji’s military ruler sat behind an imposing wooden desk, deep in thought. This was the most attention he had given to any of the questions posed to him in the interview thus far, and he seemed to be struggling to find an answer. Finally, after a lengthy pause, he said that he could think of only one mistake regarding his seizure of power more than six years ago.

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“I wish I had done this in 2001,” he said.

Fiji, a former British colony made up of about 330 islands in the central Pacific Ocean, has been without an elected government since Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, also known as Frank Bainimarama, took power in a 2006 coup. It was the country’s fourth putsch since independence in 1970, and he insisted that military rule was the only way to ensure an end to the spasms of political and ethnic violence that have so often destabilized the country. Mr. Bainimarama, who now eschews uniforms for civilian dress, carries the title prime minister and describes his tenure as a cooling-off period before an eventual return to democracy.

Mr. Bainimarama seemed to be keeping his word when, in January, he lifted the state of emergency that had been in place since he abrogated the Constitution in 2009. He then went further in March by announcing public consultations on the drafting of a new Constitution and a return to free elections by 2014, moves that were praised by Australia, the United States and other countries.

But before the ink was dry on the order lifting emergency rule, Mr. Bainimarama had issued sweeping new public order regulations, which many say contain provisions harsher than the laws they replaced. Censors may no longer stalk newsrooms to vet stories before they are published, but editors still risk heavy fines and prison terms if what they publish is deemed objectionable. Political parties and labor unions can hold meetings, but they must first secure permission from the police.

The effect has been chilling, as the cautious optimism surrounding the lifting of emergency law seems to have given way to plain old caution.

Newspapers must print the names of their writers and photographers to reveal who is responsible for an article. “If you miss a byline or a photo caption you can face a $100,000 fine” — the equivalent of $55,000 — “or two years in jail. That should tell you all you need to know,” said a local journalist, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution against his news organization.

“I think we’re in for a tough ride,” he said.

A tough ride is a good description of recent Fijian history. In 2000, during the country’s third coup, ethnic Fijian nationalists held the country’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister hostage in Parliament for 56 days. Mr. Bainimarama narrowly escaped an assassination attempt during that episode, which saw the eruption of ethnic riots in the heart of the capital, Suva.

It was in an attempt to quell that unrest, in 2006, that the military stepped in and removed the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Mr. Bainimarama accused him of corruption and inflaming the racial tensions between native Fijians and the descendents of Indians brought in by the British to serve as cheap labor in the sugarcane fields.

Members of the current government, and in particular its powerful attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, seethe over what they consider a lack of international appreciation for their accomplishments, which they say include one of the longest periods of relative economic and political stability in the country’s postindependence history. Instead, the British-led Commonwealth of Nations suspended Fiji’s membership in 2009, while New Zealand and Australia have each imposed travel, financial and other sanctions against those involved in the 2006 coup.

Sitting in his spacious office in central Suva as the setting sun turned the bay outside his window from gold to deep red, Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum, who is Indo-Fijian, insisted that any criticism of the new regulations that took effect earlier this year is based on either a misunderstanding or the entrenched biases of neocolonialists. Eventually, he said, people will see that while the new regulations contain strong law and order provisions, the government has no intention of using them unless absolutely necessary.

“The proof is in the eating of the pudding,” he said.

Such reassurances, however, are cold comfort for critics of the government and those who claim to have suffered abuse at its hands. International rights monitors like Amnesty International have blasted Fiji for its human rights record, which allegedly includes the torture of prisoners and the arbitrary detention of activists and government opponents.

Nowhere is the sense of fear this has engendered more evident than in the behavior of Fiji’s journalists. Not one would consent to be interviewed on the record, even though more than six months had passed since Fiji reinstated a free press. The only reporter who had agreed to speak for attribution sent an e-mail just days later asking that his name not be used out of fear of retribution.

Although several Western diplomats said they were encouraged by the government’s promises to hold elections and write a new Constitution, they nonetheless expressed serious concerns that the credibility of its pledges to return to democracy was being undermined by the public order regulations.

“Most of us don’t like the POAD” — the Public Order (Amendment) Decree, said a Western diplomat based in Suva, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with diplomatic protocol. “It is certainly a vehicle they could use to silence dissent.”

Netani Rika is not used to keeping silent. He is the former editor in chief of The Fiji Times, the country’s oldest newspaper, which was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s company, News Corp., until it was forced by the Fijian government to sell to a local owner in 2009. Mr. Rika, who in the early days of martial law defied the censors by leaving whole columns of his newspaper blank instead of running censored copy, left the job in 2010 after soldiers threw gasoline bombs at his home. No one has been charged over the incident, which he said had followed a telephone call from Mr. Bainimarama asking him to back off his criticisms of the government.

“I’m not optimistic,” Mr. Rika said, sitting at the bar in the Defense Club, a colonial-era institution in Suva that serves as a gathering point for the capital’s elite. “A lot of what they’ve done and will do leading up to the 2014 elections is going to be superficial.

“Unless some good people stand up, we’ll be left with those army guys who will morph into politicians,” he said. “And then they’ll be in power for 10 more years.”

The question of who will run in the elections is a critical one. Mr. Qarase, who was ousted as prime minister in 2006, faces charges of corruption and abuse of office that many say are politically motivated. Mahendra Chaudhry, the prime minister held hostage in 2000, also faces corruption charges stemming from his time in office. Both may be disqualified from running for office if convicted, which would eliminate the two most popular alternatives to Mr. Bainimarama, who in the interview on May 29 would neither rule out nor commit himself to a run for office.

Even if the elections proceed smoothly, Mr. Chaudhry said in an interview in his hilltop offices overlooking Suva, there is no guarantee they will result in the end of Fiji’s so-called “coup culture.” There are always scores that need to be settled.

“Maybe this time what we need to take a look at,” he said, “is the role of the military.”

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13 thoughts on “Least we forget………….Mr. Rika, who in the early days of martial law defied the censors by leaving whole columns of his newspaper blank instead of running censored copy, left the job in 2010 after soldiers threw gasoline bombs at his home

  1. vinaka mr rika.
    fiji will only have democracy once we disband the army.
    the coup culture will stop in fiji.
    khaiyum told mc and cabinet they should rule for 20 years.
    he is dam scared to end up in prison with his puppets baini/mosese/others.
    so we can expect army thugs running the govt for another 12 years.
    vote will be rigged or army will be used to do coup again after 2014 election if it won by sdl/flp/others.
    fiji army has to be disband first before election.

  2. we dont need army thugs in fiji.
    we are wasting 140 million on them to coup elected govt and hit its citizens.
    why cant they go and plant in the village.
    we dont need this army groons anymore.
    money should be used on youth project/farming/others.

  3. Mr. Bainimarama seemed to be keeping his word when, in January, he lifted the state of emergency that had been in place since “he abrogated the Constitution in 2009”

    The latter belies the truth, whether the author of this article set out purposely to eschew the actualities of what occurred on the day the constitution was abrogated is known only to him.

    The fact of the matter is the constitution was abrogated by the duly elected President (now deceased) whether he was coerced or otherwise the decision was his and his alone for he had a voice, frail as he may have been.

    Frank in this context did not with “emphasis” abrogate the constitution.

  4. frank and khaiyum abrogated the 1997 constitution after the court ruling in april 2009.
    but they forgot it is still alive.
    so all the bs decree made by the regime is illegal like them.

  5. Five coups, one common culprit – our military.

    The RFMF has been responsible for each and every one – with Frank and Aiyazs just the latest, and worst, in history.

  6. Radio Sunrise.

    “The RFMF has been responsible for each and every one – with Frank and Aiyazs just the latest, and worst, in history”

    Boy there is no coup better than the other the fact is all coups are treasonous and morally egregious.

    All known perpetrators must swing for their crimes.

  7. Great article that sets out the truth plainly. Hats off to Mr Rika who is still telling it like it is. Very courageous considering what he has been through. “Unless some good people stand up…” aint that the truth! What this article also highlights is Bainivuaka and Aiyarse seem to be loving being boss, very unlikely they’ll be letting that go. As for Bainicarata’s comment on his only regret not doing it in 2001…for your info you yellow dog…in 2001 you were still cleaning up the excrement you left behind in the cassava patch during your 100m dash!

  8. kavalevu na detour on the road to democracy in fiji. dua na detour levu. many good people have boarded the democracy bus provided by the military mob in power thinking naively that we are headed straight back to democracy. they have yet to realise they are being taken for a ride.netani has good reasons not to be optimistic about the regime’s road map to democracy. it’s a ploy to eat the pudding and have it to. it’s a ploy to hold onto power (or the strings to power) and have international acceptance as well for restoring democracy. netani is not buying into that bulshit .neither am I. how many others ?

  9. “All known perpetrators must swing for their crimes.”

    Well said. Frank and Aiyaz should follow Speight into jail. Take Rabuka with them if they want.

    “many good people have boarded the democracy bus provided by the military mob in power thinking naively that we are headed straight back to democracy”

    Great point. And how many have jumped off when they realised, too late, how insane and false all their promises have been.

  10. Who says that Chaudhary and racists Qarase are the most popular leaders in Fiji today?

    This is a joke of the century.
    One has become a millionaire by stealing farmer’s money collected through donations overseas and depositing it in his personal account at Commonwealth Bank in Australia whereas the other has accumulated thousands of dollars of dividends which rightly should have gone to ordinary fijians.

    To call these two man as popular is insane. THeir fate will be rightly decided by the courts in Fiji.

  11. Netani Rika would have done people of fiji a great justice if he had investigated the millions of dollars in Fiji Labor Party leader, MP ChorDhary's account at commonwealth Bank in Australia. says:

    This article, like Lauan Netani Rika’s other editorial and articles of the Fiji Times in destabilising the Fiji Labor Praty government in 1999/2000 smacks of racism.

    It would have added to some lost integrity of Netani Rika , if he would have done some investigative journalism and found out the real reasons of wht Qarase and Chaudhary have been charged.

    In particular, how Qarase has manipulated the Fijian Holdings and the government Loan turned into a grant for fijian holdings ltd. Qarase, through his family companies , mavana holdings ltd and Q TEN investments purchased shares into fijian holdings ltd.

    After being elected as prime minister, Qarase bought shares in Fijian Holdings Ltd through the abovementioned family companies.

    Later Qarase converted the government loan to Fijian Holdings Ltd into government grant. The Fijian Holdings Ltd then made profits and distributed dividedns to all shareholders.
    Qarase’s family company gained over $500,000 as dividedns.

    Further Netani Rika would have done people of fiji a great justice if he had investigated the millions of dollars in Fiji Labor Party leader, MP ChorDhary’s account at commonwealth Bank in Australia.

    So Much so for investigative journalism in Fiji and skills of journalists such as Netani Rika.

  12. @ KF

    Trues up – but there have to be consequences and prices paid.

    There have been so many injustices committed – both against innocent people and against the nation as a whole – the whole reason why we put traitors (Speight, Frank) and Murderers (Kean, Frank) in jail, is because it is meant to serve as a deterrent against those that ignore the rights of others to live in peace.

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