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FIJI: Speight and rebels claim military brutality

USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/
USP Journalism on the Fiji crisis (UTS host): http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au/

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SUVA: Rebel leader George Speight and his ringleaders claimed military brutality in a front-page report in Fiji's Daily Post today, but the newspaper said the "lawless bunch of hooligans" must answer for a larger abuse of rights.

Speight said in the Daily Post story that he had difficulties breathing, eating and drinking because of injuries suffered during his arrest last week and transportation to Nukulau Island "prison".

Ringleaders - including former military major Ilisoni Ligairi; media adviser Jo Nata; former Fiji Intelligence Service chief Metuisela Mua; deposed MP Ratu Timoci Silatolu and lawyer Tevita Bukurau - also claimed they had suffered injuries as a result of army brutality when they were arrested.

"Speight claims that he, at one stage, thought he would die as he was punched, kicked and assaulted with rifle butts," the Daily Post said.

"In a letter to his lawyers, he said he was first assaulted after he stepped onto the gangway of the naval ship that transported him and his supporters to Nukulau."

The paper quoted Speight's letter as saying: "As I stepped onto the gangplank [sic], I received a severe blow to the back with a sharp metal/wood object which I guessed was the butt of a weapon.

"At the same time, the soldiers were abusing me verbally in Fijian."

Speight described the abuse, both physical and verbal, as unwarranted.

"Four armed men were involved in carrying out the physical abuse with one, a Lauan, who was particularly vocal and physically abusive," he said in his letter.

"The abuse including slapping, punching, kicking and the use of rifle butts to the head, face, neck, back, chest and stomach.

"The abuse began immediately after departure and continued until we got to Nukulau."

He said the officer leading the assault and abuse "went through us one by one many times".

Ligairi, a former British SAS officer and founder of the elite First Meridian Squadron, claimed to have been manhandled by the officer who led the charge on Kalabu Fijian School last Thursday.

"Two soldiers grabbed me and ordered me to kneel with their weapons pointed at me," he said of the incident at Kalabu.

Ligairi was ordered to lie on the ground face down while his hands were strapped while the soldiers kicked and stomped on him.

Nata, Mua, Bukurau, Silatolu and former major Jo Savua have also filed similar assault claims.

The Daily Post showed no sympathy in an editorial headlined "Dear George and Company", saying "we read with interest and utter amusement your version of how you and your group were treated after the military arrested you last week...

"That you took offence and are complaining about the abuses is your right. And your right is respected...

"But remember George, that for every right that you will fight for - and that also goes for the collective rights of your lawless band of hooligans, there is a much larger abuse of rights that you must answer to,

"These rights were taken away from about 750,000 people when you and your triggerhappy boys stormed Parliament, ousting the democratically elected government and inciting a spate of violence, lawlessness and political anarchy that has driven many people into the depths of despair."

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