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Fiji Newspapers Condemn 'Privileges' For Rebels

Fiji Newspapers Condemn 'Privileges' For Accused Rebels

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SUVA: Fiji newspapers today condemned the "privileged" treatment of rebels accused of treason and the Daily Post called for a special court sitting on the makeshift prison isle of Nukulau.

"While this newspaper cannot and will not comment on the charges for obvious reasons, it however questions the rationale in bringing the mob across to the mainland to face charges at the Suva Magistrates' Court," the Daily Post said.

"At yesterday's [hearing] hundreds of their supporters turned up to see the mob in court.

"It was a highly charged atmosphere. Anything could have happened.

"The judiciary is aware of this, yet it allowed this to happen. Why on earth can't a special court sitting be arranged at Nukulau?"

The Fiji Sun said rebel leader George Speight and his 16 "merry men" charged with treason yesterday had been allowed privileges which an average taxpayer would not enjoy.

"One wonders what makes Mr Speight and his merry rebels different? What makes them 'more privileged' than others?

"Or are there two sets of laws in this country?

"Mr Speight and his rebels were not granted bail. However, they came off with a few rather interesting conditions.

"They were even allowed the usage of mobile telephones!"

But Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo defended his decision to allow visits by relatives to the island and telephone access to the prisoners.

"Although Fiji is caught in the midst of a political crisis, we must not lose sight of the fundamentals of our criminal law, that is an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt," Temo said.

The chief magistrate revealed he had been the target of telephone and mail death threats since he presided over the first court hearing against Speight and his co-accused on August 5.

Temo urged the public to let the courts decide on matters of law without being subjected to abuse.

"It is their guarantee against anarchy," he said.

"The court is an institution that belongs to them. Undermining it is simply to invite chaos and anarchy into our society.

"At this stage of our national life, it is absolutely imperative that the public lends its support to the courts."

Chief Magistrate Temo told the court that he was willing to step down from presiding over the case as one of the accused, Joji Bakoso, had been revealed as a blood relative.

The prosecution applied to have a case involving earlier charges, including two counts of unlawful assembly, heard by another magistrate.

Temo directed that legal submissions be filed by August 15. He adjourned the case until August 18 with the accused being detained on Nukulau.

Appearing with George Speight (Ilikimi Naitini) yesterday were his media adviser Jo Nata, military strategist Ilisoni Ligairi, Ratu Timoci Silatolu, Metuisela Mua, Josefa Savua, Tevita Bukarau, Viliame Sausauwai, Eroni Lewaqai, Jim Speight (Avolosi Vakarawaivalu), Rusiate Korovusere, Samu Konataci and Joji Bakoso.

On the fresh charges of treason, the 13 were jointly charged with Vilimone Tikotani, Jitoko Soko, Keni Naika and Fesikatoa Ravai.

They did not plead to the charges which technically carry the death penalty in Fiji, but it is expected that they would face a life sentence if convicted.

They were remanded to a High Court hearing on August 25.

In the first count of treason, the state alleged that Speight and two soldiers from the now-disbanded Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Unit, Tikotani and Soko, were charged with intending to wage war against the President and by using armed force to overthrow the elected Chaudhry government on May 19.

* Meanwhile, Public Services Commission secretary Anare Jale said a tribunal would be appointed by the Judicial Services Commission to investigate allegations made against Police Commissioner Isikia Savua over involvement with Speight and the rebels.

Ends

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